MASTER OF MYSTERIES
MELVILLE DAVISSON POST
AUTHOR O* "THE NAMXUESS THING," SIC
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
NEW YORK LONDON
THE NEW YORK
a-"^, u:\ox and
COPYMGHT, 19x8, BY
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
COPYKIGKT, X9II, 191a, 19x5, BY THE CUXXZS PUBUSHINO COMPAVY
COPniGHT, X9I2, X9X3, BY THE METROPOLITAN MAGAZINE COMPANY
OOPYUGHT, X9X6, 19x7, BY THE ILLUSTRATED SUHDAY MAGAZINE
OOPYIMHT, X9XS, 1916, BY THE BED BOOK COIPO&ATXOH
Printed in the United States of America
WHOSE UNFAILING FAITH IN
AN ULTIMATE JUSTICE BEHIND
THE MOVING OF EVENTS HAS
BEEN TO THE WRITER A
WONDER AND AN INSPIRATION
I. The Doomdorf Mystbry i
II. The Wrong Hand . . . .^/. . . 21
III. The Angel of the Lord 41
IV. An Act of God 64
V. The Treasure Hunter . . • . . . 82
VI. The House of the Dead Man . ~ . . 101
VII. A Twilight Adventure . .... 118
VIII. The Age of Miracles 136
IX. The Tenth Commandment . .... 153
/ X. The Devil's Tools 171
XI. The Hidden Law ....... 191
XII. The Riddle 208
XIII. The Straw Man . . . ._ •_•_•_• 227
XIV.. TheIMystery of Chance . • . . . 249
XV. The Concealed Path 266
XVI. The Edge of the Shadow 286
XVII. The Adopted Daughter 303
XVIII. Naboth's Vineyard ...... 323
CHAPTER I: The Doomdorf Mystery
THE pioneer was not the only man in the
great mountains behind Virginia. Strange
aliens drifted in after the Colonial wars.
All foreign armies are sprinkled with a cockle of ad-
venturers that take root and remain. They were
with Braddock and La Salle, and they rode north out
of Mexico after her many empires went to pieces.
I think Doomdorf crossed the seas with Iturbide
when that ill-starred adventurer returned to be shot
against a wall; but there was no Southern blood in
him. He came from some European race remote
and barbaric. The evidences were all about him.
He was a huge figure of a man, with a black spade
beard, broad, thick hands, and square, flat Angers.
He had found a wedge of land between the
Crown's grant to Daniel Davisson and a Washington
survey. It was an uncovered triangle not worth the
running of the lines ; and so, no doubt, was left out,
a sheer rock standing up out of the river for a base,
and a peak of the mountain rising northward behind
it for an apex.
Doomdorf squatted on the rock. He must have
brought a belt of gold pieces when he took to his
horse, for he hired old Robert Steuart's slaves and
built a stone house on the rock, and he brought the
furnishings overland from a frigate in the Chesa-
peake ; and then in the handfuls of earth, wherever
a root would hold, he planted the mountain behind
his house with peach trees. The gold gave out; but
the devil is fertile in resources. Doomdorf built a
log still and turned the first fruits of the garden into
a hell-brew. The idle and the vicious came with
their stone jugs, and violence and riot flowed out.
The government of Virginia was remote and its
arm short and feeble ; but the men who held the lands
west of the mountains against the savages under
grants from George, and after that held them against
George himself, were efficient and expeditious. They
had long patience, but when that failed they went up
from their fields and drove the thing before them
out of the land, like a scourge of God.
There came a day, then, when my Uncle Abner
and Squire Randolph rode through the gap of the
mountains to have the thing out with Doomdorf.
The work of this brew, which had the odors of Eden
and the impulses of the devil in it, could be borne no
longer. The drunken negroes had shot old Dun-
can's cattle and burned his haystacks, and the land
was on its feet.
They rode alone, but they were worth an army of
little men. Randolph was vain and pompous and
The Doomdorf Mystery
given over to extravagance of words, but he was a
gentleman beneath it, and fear was an alien and a
stranger to him. And Abner was the right hand of
It was a day in early summer and the sun lay hot.
They crossed through the broken spine of the moun-
tains and trailed along the river in the shade of the
great chestnut trees. The road was only a path and
the horses went one before the other. It left the
river when the rock began to rise and, making a de-
tour through the grove of peach trees, reached the
house on the mountain side. Randolph and Abner
got down, unsaddled their horses and turned them
out to graze, for their business with Doomdorf
would not be over in an hour. Then they took a
steep path that brought them out on the mountain
side of the house.
A man sat on a big red-roan horse in the paved
court before the door. He was a gaunt old man.
He sat bare-headed, the palms of his hands resting
on the pommel of his saddle, his chin sunk in his
black stock, his face in retrospection, the wind mov-
ing gently his great shock of voluminous white hair.
Under him the huge red horse stood with his legs
spread out like a horse of stone.
There was no sound. The door to the house was
closed; insects moved in the sun; a shadow crept out
from the motionless figure, and swarms of yellow
butterflies maneuvered like an army.
Abner and Randolph stopped. They knew the
tragic figure — a circuit rider of the hills who
preached the invective of Isaiah as though he were
the mouthpiece of a militant and avenging overlord;
as though the government of Virginia were the aw-
ful theocracy of the Book of Kings. The horse was
dripping with sweat and the man bore the dust and
the evidences of a journey on him.
"Bronson," said Abner, "where is Doomdorf ?"
The old man lifted his head and looked down at
Abner ov$r the pommel of the saddle.
" 'Surely,' " he said, " 'he covereth his feet in his
summer chamber.' "
Abner went over and knocked on the closed door,
and presently the white, frightened face of a woman
looked out at him. She was a little, faded woman,
with fair hair, a broad foreign face, but with the
delicate evidences of gentle blood.
Abner repeated his question.
"Where is Doomdorf ?"
"Oh, sir," she answered with a queer lisping ac-
cent, "he went to lie down in his south room after
his midday meal, as his custom is; and I went to the
orchard to gather any fruit that might be ripened."
She hesitated and her voice lisped into a whisper:
"He is not come out and I cannot wake him."
The two men followed her through the hall and
up the stairway to the door.
"It is always bolted," she said, "when he goes to
lie down." And she knocked feebly with the tips of
The Doomdorf Mystery
There was no answer and Randolph rattled the
"Come out, Doomdorf !" he called in his big, bel-
There was only silence and the echoes of the
words among the rafters. Then Randolph set his
shoulder to the door and burst it open.
They went in. The room was flooded with sun
from the tall south windows. Doomdorf lay on a
couch in a little offset of the room, a great scarlet
patch on his bosom and a pool of scarlet on the floor.
The woman stood for a moment staring; then she
"At last I have killed him I" And she ran like a
The two men closed the door and went over to the
couch. Doomdorf had been shot to death. There
was a great ragged hole in his waistcoat. They be-
gan to look about for the weapon with which the
deed had been accomplished, and in a moment found
it — a fowling piece lying in two dogwood forks
against the wall. The gun had just been fired;
there was a freshly exploded paper cap under the
There was little else in the room — a loom-woven
rag carpet on the floor; wooden shutters flung back
from the windows; a great oak table, and on it a
big, round, glass water bottle, filled to its glass
stopper with raw liquor from the still. The stuff
was limpid and clear as spring water; and, but for
its pungent odor, one would have taken it for God's
brew instead of Doomdorf 's. The sun lay on it and
against the wall where hung the weapon that had
ejected the dead man out of life.
"Abner," said Randolf, "this is murder! The
woman took that gun down from the wall and shot
Doomdorf while he slept."
Abner was standing by the table, his fingers round
"Randolph," he replied, "what brought Bronsoiv
"The same outrages that brought us," said Ran*
dolph. "The mad old circuit rider has been preach-
ing a crusade against Doomdorf far and wide in th*
Abner answered, without taking his fingers ^ron^
about his chin :
"You think this woman killed Doomdorf? WeH
let us go and ask Bronson who killed him."
They closed the door, leaving the dead man on hit
couch, and went down into the court.
The old circuit rider had put away his horse and
got an ax. He had taken off his coat and pushed
his shirtsleeves up over his long elbows. He wai
on his way to the still to destroy the barrels of liquor.
He stopped when the two men came out, and Abner
called to him.
"Bronson," he said, "who killed Doomdorf?"
"I killed him," replied the old man, and went on
toward the still.
The Doomdorf Mystery
Randolph swore under his breath. u By the
Almighty," he said, "everybody couldn't kill him !"
"Who can tell how many had a hand in it?" re-
"Two have confessed!" cried Randolph. "Was
there perhaps a third? Did you kill him, Abner?
And I too? Man, the thing is impossible !"
"The impossible," replied Abner, "looks here like
the truth. Come with me, Randolph, and I will
show you a thing more impossible than this."
They returned through the house and up the stairs
to the room. Abner closed the door behind them.
"Look at this bolt," he said; "it is on the inside
and not connected with the lock. How did the one
who killed Doomdorf get into this room, since the
door was bolted?"
"Through the windows," replied Randolph.
There were but two windows, facing the south,
through which the sun entered. Abner led Ran-
dolph to them.
"Look!" he said. "The wall of the house is
plumb with the sheer face of the rock. It is a hun-
dred feet to the river and the rock is as smooth as a
sheet of glass. But that is not all. Look at these
window frames; they are cemented into their case-
ment with dust and they are bound along their edges
with cobwebs. These windows have not been
opened. How did the assassin enter?"
"The answer is evident," said Randolph: "The
one who killed Doomdorf hid in the room until he
was asleep ; then he shot him and went out* 9
"The explanation is excellent but for one thing/ 9
replied Abner: "How did the assassin bolt the door
behind him on the inside of this room after he had
Randolph flung out his arms with a hopeless ges-
"Who knows?" he cried. "Maybe Doomdorf
"And after firing a handful of shot into his heart
he got up and put the gun back carefully into the
forks against the wall I"
"Well," cried Randolph, "there is one open road
out of this mystery. Bronson and this woman say
they killed Doomdorf, and if they killed him they
surely know how they did it. Let us go down and
"In the law court," replied Abner, "that procedure
would be considered sound sense ; but we are in God's
court and things are managed there in a somewhat
stranger way. Before we go let us find out, if we
can, at what hour it was that Doomdorf died."
He went over and took a big silver watch out of
the dead man's pocket. It was broken by a shot
and the hands lay at one hour after noon. He stood
for a moment fingering his chin.
"At one o'clock," he said. "Bronson, I think,
The Doomdorf Mystery
was on the road to this place, and the woman was on
the mountain among the peach trees."
Randolph threw back his shoulders.
"Why waste time in a speculation about it,
Abner?" he said. "We know who did this thing.
Let us go and get the story of it out of their own
mouths. Doomdorf died by the hands of either
Bronson or this woman."
"Icould better believe it," replied Abner, "but for
the running of a certain awful law."
"What law?" said Randolph. "Is it a statute of
"It is a statute," replied Abner, "of an authority
somewhat higher. Mark the language of it: 'He
that killeth with the sword must be killed with the
sword. 1 "
He came over and took Randolph by the arm.
"Must ! Randolph, did you mark particularly the
word 'must' ? It is a mandatory law. There is no
room in it for the vicissitudes of chance or fortune.
There is no way round that word. Thus, we reap
what we sow and nothing else ; thus, we receive what
we give and nothing else. It is the weapon in our
own hands that finally destroys us. You are looking
at it now." And he turned him about so that the
table and the weapon and the dead man were before
him. " 'He that killeth with the sword must be
killed with the sword.' And now," he said, "let us
go and try the method of the law courts. Your faith
is in the wisdom of their ways."
They found the old circuit rider at work in the
still, staving in Doomdorf 's liquor casks, splitting the
oak heads with his ax.
"Bronson," said Randolph, "how did you kill
The old man stopped and stood leaning on his ax.
"I killed him," replied the old man, "as Elijah
killed the captains of Ahaziah and their fifties. But
not by the hand of any man did I pray the Lord God
to destroy Doomdorf, but with fire from heaven to
He stood up and extended his arms.
"His hands were full of blood," he said. "With
his abomination from these groves of Baal he stirred
up the people to contention, to strife and murder.
The widow and the orphan cried to heaven against
him. l I will surely hear their cry,' is the promise
written in the Book. The land was weary of him ;
and I prayed the Lord God to destroy him with fire
from heaven, as he destroyed the Princes of Gomor-
rah in their palaces!"
Randolph made a gesture as of one who dismisses
the impossible, but Abner's face took on a deep,
"With fire from heaven I" he repeated slowly to
himself. Then he asked a question. "A little
while ago," he said, "when we came, I asked you
where Doomdorf was, and you answered me in the
language of the third chapter of the Book of Judges.
The Doomdorf Mystery
Why did you answer me like that, Bronson? — 'Surely
he covereth his feet in his summer chamber.' "
"The woman told me that he had not come down
from the room where he had gone up to sleep," re-
plied the old man, "and that the door was locked*
And then I knew that he was dead in his summer
chamber like Eglon, King of Moab."
He extended his arm toward the south.
"I came here from the Great Valley," he said, "to
cut down these groves of Baal and to empty out this
abomination; but I did not know that the Lord had
heard my prayer and visited His wrath on Doom-
dorf until I was come up into these mountains to his
door. When the woman spoke I knew it." And
he went away to his horse, leaving the ax among the
"Come, Abner," he said; "this is wasted time.
Bronson did not kill Doomdorf."
Abner answered slowly in his deep, level voice :
"Do you realize, Randolph, how Doomdorf
"Not by fire from heaven, at any rate," said Ran-
"Randolph," replied Abner, "are you sure?"
"Abner," cried Randolph, "you are pleased to
jest, but I am in deadly earnest A crime has been
done here against the state. I am an officer of jus-
tice and I propose to discover the assassin if I can."
He walked away toward the house and Abner
followed, his hands behind him and his great shoul-
ders thrown loosely forward, with a grim smile
about his mouth.
"It is no use to talk with the mad old preacher,"
Randolph went on. "Let him empty out the liquor
and ride away. I won't issue a warrant against him.
Prayer may be a handy implement to do a murder
with, Abner, but it is not a deadly weapon under the
statutes of Virginia. Doomdorf was dead when old
Bronson got here with his Scriptural jargon. This
woman killed Doomdorf. I shall put her to an
"As you like," replied Abner. "Your faith re-
mains in the methods of the law courts."
"Do you know of any better methods?" said Ran-
"Perhaps," replied Abner, "when you have fin-
Night had entered the valley. The two men went
into the house and set about preparing the corpse for
burial. They got candles, and made a coffin, and
put Doomdorf in it, and straightened out his limbs,
and folded his arms across his shot-out heart. Then
they set the coffin on benches in the hall.
They kindled a fire in the dining room and sat
down before it, with the door open and the red fire-
light shining through on the dead man's narrow,
everlasting house. The woman had put some cold
meat, a golden cheese and a loaf on the table. They
did not see her, but they heard her moving about the
The Doomdorf Mystery
house; and finally, on the gravel court 6utside, her
step and the whinny of a horse. Then she came in,
dressed as for a journey. Randolph sprang up.
"Where are you going?" he said.
"To the sea and a ship," replied the woman.
Then she indicated the hall with a gesture. "He ts
dead and I am free/ 9
There was a sudden illumination in her face.
Randolph took a step toward her. His voice was
big and harsh.
"Who killed Doomdorf?" he cried.
"I killed him," replied the woman. "It was
"Fair I" echoed the justice. "What do you mean
The woman shrugged her shoulders and put out
her hands with a foreign gesture.
"I remember an old, old man sitting against a
sunny wall, and a little girl, and one who came and
talked a long time with the old man, while the little
girl plucked yellow flowers out of the grass and put
them into her hair. Then finally the stranger gave
the old man a gold chain and took the little girl
away." She flung out her hands. "Oh, it was fair
to kill him I" She looked up with a queer, pathetic
"The old man will be gojie by now," she said; "but
I shall perhaps find the wall there, with the sun on it,
and the yellow flowers in the grass. And now, may
It is a law of the story-teller's art that he does not
tell a story. It is the listener who tells it. The
story-teller does but provide him with the stimuli.
Randolph got up and walked about the floor. He
was a justice of the peace in a day when that office
was filled only by the landed gentry, after the Eng-
lish fashion; and the obligations of the law were
strong on him. If he should take liberties with the
letter of it, how could the weak and the evil be made
to hold it in respect? Here was this woman before
him a confessed assassin. Could he let her go?
Abner sat unmoving by the hearth, his elbow on
the arm of his chair, his palm propping up his jaw,
his face clouded in deep lines. Randolph was con-
sumed with vanity and the weakness of ostentation,
but he shouldered his duties for himself. Presently
he stopped and looked at the woman, wan, faded like
some prisoner of legend escaped out of fabled dun-
geons into the sun.
The firelight flickered past her to the box on the
benches in the hall, and the vast, inscrutable justice
of heaven entered and overcame him.
"Yes," he said. "Go ! There is no jury in Vir-
ginia that would hold a woman for shooting a beast
like that." And he thrust out his arm, with the
lingers extended toward the dead man.
The woman made a little awkward curtsy.
"I thank you, sir." Then she hesitated and
lisped, "But I have not shoot him."
The Doomdorf Mystery
"Not shoot him!" cried Randolph. "Why, the
man's heart is riddled!"
"Yes, sir," she s'aid simply, like a child. "I kill
him, but have not shoot him."
Randolph took two long strides toward the
"Not shoot him!" he repeated. "How then, in
the name of heaven, did you kill Doomdorf?" And
his big voice filled the empty places of the room.
"I will show you, sir," she said.
She turned and went away into the house. Pres-
ently she returned with something folded up in a
linen towel. She put it on the table between the loaf
of bread and the yellow cheese.
Randolph stood over the table, and the woman's
deft fingers undid the towel from round its deadly
contents ; and presently the thing lay there uncovered.
It was a little crude model of a human figure done
in wax with a needle thrust through the bosom.
Randolph stood up with a great intake of the
"Magic! By the eternal!"
"Yes, sir," the woman explained, in her voice and
manner of a child. "I have try to kill him many
times — oh, very many times! — with witch words
which I have remember; but always they fail.
Then, at last, I make him in wax, and I put a needle
through his heart; and I kill him very quickly."
It was as clear as daylight, even to Randolph, that
the woman was innocent. Her little harmless magic
was the pathetic effort of a child to kill a dragon.
He hesitated a moment before he spoke, and then he
decided like the gentleman he was. If it helped the
child to believe that her enchanted straw had slain
the monster — well, he would let her believe it.
"And now, sir, may I go?"
Randolph looked at the woman in a sort of won-
"Are you not afraid," he said, "of the night and
the mountains, and the long road?"
"Oh no, sir," she replied simply. "The good
God will be everywhere now."
It was an awful commentary on the dead man-
that this strange half-child believed that all the evil
in the world had gone out with him; that now that
he was dead, the sunlight of heaven would fill every
nook and corner.
It was not a faith that either of the two men
wished to shatter, and they let her go. It would J>e
daylight presently and the road through the moun-
tains to the Chesapeake was open.
Randolph came back to the fireside after he had
helped her into the saddle, and sat down. He
tapped on the hearth for some time idly with the
iron poker; and then finally he spoke.
"This is the strangest thing that ever happened,"
he said. "Here's a mad old preacher who thinks
that he killed Doomdorf with fire from Heaven,
like Elijah the Tishbite; and here is a simple child
of a woman who thinks she killed him with a piece of
The Doomdorf Mystery
magic of the Middle Ages — each as innocent of his
death as I am. And yet, by the eternal, the beast is
He drummed on the hearth with the poker, lifting
it up and letting it drop through the hollow of his
"Somebody shot Doomdorf. But who? And
how did he get into and out of that shut-up room?
The assassin that killed Doomdorf must have gotten
into the room to kill him. Now, how did he get
in?" He spoke as to himself; but my uncle sitting
across the hearth replied:
"Through the window."
"Through the window!" echoed Randolph 9 .
"Why, man, you yourself showed me that the win-
dow had not been opened, and the precipice below it
a fly could hardly climb. Do you tell me now that
die window was opened?"
"No," said Abner, "it was never opened."
Randolph got on his feet.
"Abner," he cried, "are you saying that the one
who killed Doomdorf climbed the sheer wall and got
in through a closed window, without disturbing the
dust or the cobwebs on the window frame ?"
My uncle looked Randolph in the face.
"The murderer of Doomdorf did even more,"
he said. "That assassin not only climbed the face
of that precipice and got in through the closed win-
dow, but he shot Doomdorf to death and got out
again through the closed window without leaving a
single track or trace behind, and without disturbing
a grain of dust or a thread of a cobweb."
Randolph swore a great oath.
"The thing is impossible!" he cried. "Men are
not killed today in Virginia by black art or a curse
"By black art, no," replied Abner; "but by the
curse of God, yes. I think they are."
Randolph drove his clenched right hand into the
palm of his left.
"By the eternal !" he cried. "I would like to see
the assassin who could do a murder like this, whether
he be an imp from the pit or an angel out of
"Very well," replied Abner, undisturbed. "When
he comes back tomorrow I will show you the assas-
sin who killed Doomdorf."
When day broke they dug a grave and buried the
dead man against the mountain among his peach
trees. It was noon when that work was ended.
Abner threw down his spade and looked up at the
"Randolph," he said, "let us go and lay an ambush
for this assassin. He is on the way here."
And it was a strange ambush that he laid. When
they were come again into the chamber where Doom-
dorf died he bolted the door; then he loaded the
fowling piece and put it carefully back on its rack
against the wall. After that he did another curious
thing: He took the blood-stained coat, which they
The Dootndorf Mystery
had stripped off the dead man when they had pre-
pared his body for the earth, put a pillow in it and
laid it on the couch precisely where Doomdorf had
slept. And while he did these things Randolph
stood in wonder and Abner talked:
"Look you, Randolph. . . . We will trick
the murderer. . . . We will catch him in the
Then he went over and took the puzzled justice by
"Watch!" he said. "The assassin is coming
along the wall !"
But Randolph heard nothing, saw nothing. Only
the sun entered. Abner's hand tightened on his
"It is here! Look!" And he pointed to the
Randolph, following the extended finger, saw a
tiny brilliant disk of light moving slowly up the wall
toward the lock of the fowling piece. Abner's hand
became a vise and his voice rang as over metal.
" 'He that killeth with the sword must be killed
with the sword.' It is the water bottle, full of
Doomdorf 's liquor, focusing the sun. . . . And
look, Randolph, how Bronson's prayer was an-
The tiny disk of light traveled on the plate of the
"It is fire from heaven!"
The words rang above the roar of the fowling
piece, and Randolph saw the dead man's coat leap up
on the couch, riddled by the shot. The gun, in its
natural position on the rack, pointed to the couch
standing at the end of the chamber, beyond the offset
of the wall, and the focused sun had exploded the
Randolph made a great gesture, with his arm ex-
"It is a world," he said, "filled with the mysterious
joinder of accident!"
"It is a world," replied Abner, "filled with the
mysterious justice of God!"
CHAPTER II: The Wrong Hand
ABNER never would have taken me Into that
house iif he could have helped it. He was
on a desperate mission and a child was the
last company he wished; but he had to do it. It
was an evening of early winter — raw and cold. A
chilling rain was beginning to fall; night was de-
scending and I could not go on. I had been into the
upcountry and had taken this short cut through the
hills that lay here against the mountains. I would
have been home by now, but a broken shoe had de-
I did not see Abner's horse until I approached the
crossroads, but I think he had seen me from a dis-
tance. His great chestnut stood in the grassplot
between the roads, and Abner sat upon him like a
man of stone. He had made his decision when I
got to him.
The very aspect of the land was sinister. The
house stood on a hill; round its base, through the
sodded meadows, the river ran — dark, swift and
silent; stretching westward was a forest and for back-
ground the great mountains stood into the sky. The
house was very old. The high windows were of lit-
tle panes of glass and on the ancient white door the
paint was seamed and cracked with age.
The name of the man who lived here was a by-
word in the hills. He was a hunchback, who sat his
great roan as though he were a spider in the saddle.
He had been married more than once ; but one wife
had gone mad, and my Uncle Abner's drovers had
found the other on a summer morning swinging to
the limb of a great elm that stood before the door,
a bridle-rein knotted around her throat and her bare
feet scattering the yellow pollen of the ragweed.
That elm was to us a duletree. One could not ride
beneath it for the swinging of this ghost.
The estate, undivided, belonged to Gaul and his
brother. This brother lived beyond the moutains.
He never came until he came that last time. Gaul
rendered some accounting and they managed in that
way. It was said the brother believed himself de-
frauded and had come finally to divide the lands; but
this was gossip. Gaul said his brother came upon a
visit and out of love for him.
One did not know where the truth lay between
these stories. Why he came we could not be cer-
tain ; but why he remained was beyond a doubt.
One morning Gaul came to my Uncle Abner, cling-
ing to the pommel of his saddle while his great horse
galloped, to say that he had found his brother dead,
and asking Abner to go with some others and look
upon the man before one touched his body — and
then to get him buried.
The hunchback sniveled and cried out that his
nerves were gone with grief and the terror of find-
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ing his brother's throat cut open and the blood upon
him as he lay ghastly in his bed. He did not know
a detail. He had looked in at the door — and fled.
His brother had not got up and he had gone to call
him. Why his brother had done this thing he could
not imagine — he was in perfect health and he slept
beneath his roof in love. The hunchback had
blinked his red-lidded eyes and twisted his big, hairy
hands, and presented the aspect of grief. It looked
grotesque and loathsome; but — how else could a
toad look in his extremity?
Abner had gone with my father and Elnathan
Stone. They had found the man as Gaul said — the
razor by his hand and the marks of his fingers and
his struggle on him and about the bed. And the
country had gone to see him buried. The hills had
been afire with talk, but Abner and my father and
Elnathan Stone were silent. They came silent from
Gaul's house ; they stood silent before the body when
it was laid out for burial; and, bareheaded, they
were silent when the earth received it.
A little later, however, when Gaul brought forth
a will, leaving the brother's share of the estate to the
hunchback, with certain loving words, and a mean
allowance to the man's children, the three had met
together and Abner had walked about all night.
As we turned in toward the house Abner asked me
if I had got my supper. I told him "Yes" ; and at
the ford he stopped and sat a moment in the saddle.
"Martin," he said, "get down and drink. It is
God's river and the water clean in it."
Then he extended his great arm toward the
"We shall go in," he said; "but we shall not eat
nor drink there, for we do not come in peace."
I do not know much about that house, for I saw
only one room in it; that was empty, cluttered with
dust and rubbish, and preempted by the spider.
Long double windows of little panes of glass looked
out over the dark, silent river slipping past without
a sound, and the rain driving into the forest and the
loom of the mountains. There was a fire — the
trunk of an apple tree burning, with one end in the
fireplace. There were some old chairs with blade
hair-cloth seats, and a sofa — all very old. These
the hunchback did not sit on, for the dust appeared
when they were touched. He had a chair beside the
hearth, and he sat in that — a high-backed chair,
made like a settee and padded, — the arms padded
too ; but there the padding was worn out and ragged,
where his hands had plucked it.
He wore a blue coat, made with little capes to hide
his hump, and he sat tapping the burning tree with
his cane. There was a gold piece set into the head
of this black stick. He had it put there, the gossips
said, that his fingers might be always on the thing
he loved. His gray hair lay along his face and the
draft of the chimney moved it.
He wondered why we came, and his eyes declared
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how the thing disturbed him; they flared dp and
burned down — now gleaming in his head as he
looked us over, and now dull as he considered what
The man was misshapen and doubled up, but there
was strength and vigor in him. He had a great,
cavernous mouth, and his voice was a sort of bellow.
One has seen an oak tree, dwarfed and stunted into
knots, but with the toughness and vigor of a great
oak in it. Gaul was a thing like that.
He cried out when he saw Abner. He was taken
by surprise; and he wished to know if we came by
chance or upon some errand.
11 Abner/' he said, "come in. It's a devil's night
— rain and the driving wind."
"The weather," said Abner, "is in God's hand."
"God!" cried Gaul. "I would shoestrap* such a
God! The autumn is not half over and here is
winter come, and no pasture left and the cattle to
Then he saw me, with my scared white face — and
he was certain that we came by chance. He craned
his thick neck and looked.
"Bub," he said, "come in and warm your fingers.
I will not hurt you. I did not twist my body up
like this to frighten children — it was Abner's God."
We entered and sat down by the fire. The apple
tree blazed and crackled; the wind outside increased;
* Referring to the custom of flogging a slave with a shoemaker's
the rain turned to a kind of sleet that rattled on the
window-glass like shot. The room was lighted by
two candles in tall brass candlesticks. They stood
at each end of the mantelpiece, smeared with tal-
low. The wind whopped and spat into the chimney;
and now and then a puff of wood-smoke blew out
and mounted up along the blackened fireboard.
Abner and the hunchback talked of the price of
cattle, of the "blackleg" among yearlings — that fatal
disease that we had so much trouble with — and of
Gaul said that if calves were kept in small lots
and not all together the "blackleg" was not so apt
to strike them; and he thought the "lump-jaw" was
a germ. Fatten the bullock with green corn and put
it in a car, he said, when the lump begins to come.
The Dutch would eat it — and what poison could hurt
the Dutch! But Abner said the creature should
"And lose the purchase money and a summer's
grazing?" cried Gaul. "Not 1 1 I ship the beast."
"Then," said Abner, "the inspector in the market
ought to have it shot and you fined to boot."
"The inspectoi in the market 1" And Gaul
laughed. "Why, I slip him a greenback — thus !" —
and he set his thumb against his palm. "And he is
glad to see me. 'Gaul, bring in all you can,' said
one; c it means a little something to us both.' " And
the hunchback's laugh clucked and chuckled in his
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And they talked of renters, and men to harvest
the hay and feed the cattle in the winter. And on
this topic Gaul did not laugh ; he cursed. Labor was
a lost art and the breed of men run out. This new
set were worthless — they had hours — and his oaths
filled all the rafters. Hours! Why, under his
father men worked from dawn until dark and
cleaned their horses by a lantern. . . * These were
decadent times that we were come on. In the good
days one bought a man for two hundred eagles; but
now die creature was a citizen and voted at the
polls — and could not be kicked. And if one took
his cane ahd drubbed him he was straightway sued
at law, in an action of trespass on the case, for dam-
ages. . . . Men had gone mad with these new-
fangled notions, and the earth was likely to grow
up with weeds !
Abner said there was a certain truth in this —
and that truth was that men were idler than their
fathers. Certain preachers preached that labor was
a curse and backed it up with Scripture; but he had
read the Scriptures for himself and the curse was
idleness. Labor and God's Book would save the
world; they were two wings that a man could get
his soul to Heaven on.
"They can all go to hell, for me," said Gaul, "and
so I have my day's work first."
And he tapped the tree with his great stick and
cried out that his workhands robbed him. He had
to sit his horse and watch or they hung their scythes
up ; and he must put sulphur in' his cattle's meal or
they stole it from him ; and they milked his cows to
feed their scurvy babies. He would have their
hides off if it were not for these tender laws.
Abner said that, while one saw to his day's work
done, he must see to something more; that a man
was his brother's keeper in spite of Cain's denial —
and he must keep him; that the elder had his right
to the day's work, but the younger had also his right
to the benefits of his brother's guardianship. The
fiduciary had One to settle with. It would go hard
if he should shirk the trust.
"I do not recognize your trust," said Gaul. "I
live here for myself."
"For yourself 1" cried Abner. "And would you
know what God thinks of you?"
"And would you know what I think of God?"
"What do you think of Him?" said Abner.
"I think He's a scarecrow," said Gaul. "And I
think, Abner, that I am a wiser bird than you are.
I have not sat cawing in a tree, afraid of this thing.
I have seen its wooden spine under its patched jacket,
and the crosspiece peeping from the sleeves, and its
dangling legs. And I have gone down into its field
and taken what I liked in spite of its flapping coat-
tails. . . . Why, Abner, this thing your God de-
pends on is a thing called fear; and I do not have
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Abner looked at him hard, but he did not answer.
He turned, instead, to mc.
"Martin," he said, "you must go to sleep, lad/'
And he wrapped me in his greatcoat and put me to
bed on the sofa — behind him in the corner. I was
snug and warm there and I could have slept like
Saul, but I was curious to know what Abner came
for and I peeped out through a buttonhole of the
Abner sat for a long time, his elbows on his knees,
his hands together and his eyes looking into the fire.
The hunchback watched him, his big, hairy hands
moving on the padded arms of his chair and his
sharp eyes twinkling like specks of glass. Finally
Abner spoke — I judged he believed me now asleep.
"And so, Gaul," he said, "you think God is a
"I do," said Gaul.
"And, you have taken what you liked?"
"I have," said Gaul.
"Well," said Abner, "I have come to ask you to
return what you have taken — and something besides,
He got a folded paper out of his pocket and
handed it across the hearth to Gaul.
The hunchback took it, leaned back in his chair,
unfolded it at his leisure and at his leisure read it
"A deed in fee," he said, "for all these lands . . .
to my brother's children. The legal terms are
right: 'Doth grant, with covenants of general war-
ranty.* ... It is well drawn, Abner; but I am not
pleased to 'grant.' "
"Gaul," said Abner, "there are certain reasons
that may move you."
The hunchback smiled.
"They must be very excellent to move a man to
alienate his lands."
"Excellent they are," said Abner. "I shall men-
tion the best one first."
"Do," said Gaul, and his grotesque face was
"It is this," said Abner: "You have no heirs.
Your brother's son is now a man; he should marry
a wife and rear up children to possess these lands.
And, as he is thus called upon to do what you cannot
do, Gaul, he should have the things you have, to use."
"That's a very pretty reason, Abner," said the
hunchback, "and it does you honor; but I know a
"What is it, Gaul?" said Abner.
The hunchback grinned. "Let us say, my pleas-
Then he struck his bootleg with his great black
"And now," he cried, "who's back of this tom-
"I am," said Abner.
The hunchback's heavy brows shot down. He
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was not disturbed, but he knew that Abner moved
on no fool's errand.
"Abner," he said, "you have some reason for this
thing. What is it?"
"I have several reasons for it," replied Abner,
"and I gave you the best one first."
"Then the rest are not worth the words to say
them in," cried Gaul.
"You are mistaken there," replied Abner; "I said
that I would give you the best reason, not the strong-
est. . . . Think of the reason I have given. We
do not have our possessions in fee in this world, Gaul,
but upon lease and for a certain term of service.
And when we make default in that service the lease
abates and a new man can take the title."
Gaul did not understand and he was wary.
- "I carry out my brother's will," he said.
"But the dead," replied Abner, "cannot retain
dominion over things. There can be no tenure be-
yond a life estate. These lands and chattels are
for the uses of men as they arrive. The needs of
the living overrule the devises of the dead."
Gaul was watching Abner closely. He knew that
this was some digression, but he met it with equanim-
ity. He put his big, hairy fingers together and
spoke with a judicial air.
"Your argument," he said, "is without a leg to
stand on. It is the dead who govern. Look you,
man, how they work their will upon us ! Who have
made the laws? The dead! Who have made the
customs that we obey and that form and shape our
lives? The dead I And the titles to our lands —
have not the dead devised them? ... If a sur-
veyor runs a line he begins at some corner that the
dead set up ; and if one goes to law upon a question
the judge loofcs backward through his books until
he finds out how the dead have settled it — and he
follows that. And all the writers, when they would
give weight and authority to their opinions, quote
the dead; and the orators and all those who preach
and lecture — are not their mouths filled with words
that the dead have spoken? Why, man, our lives
follow grooves that the dead have run out with
their thumbnails I"
He got on his feet and looked at Abner.
"What my brother has written in his will I will
obey," he said. "Have you seen that paper, Ab-
"I have not," said Abner, "but I have read the
copy in the county clerk's book. It bequeathed
these lands to you."
The hunchback went over to an old secretary
standing against the wall. He pulled it open, got
out the will and a pack of letters and brought them
to the fire. He laid the letters on the table beside
Abner's deed and held out the will.
Abner took the testament and read it.
"Do you know my brother's writing?" said Gaul.
"I do," said Abner.
"Then you know he wrote that will."
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"He did," said Abner. "It is in Enoch's hand."
Then he added : "But the date is a month before
your brother came here."
"Yes," said Gaul; "it was not written in this
house. My brother sent it to me. See — here is
the envelope that it came in, postmarked on that
Abner took the envelope and compared the date.
"It is the very day," he said, "and the address is in
"It is," said Gaul; "when my brother had set his
signature to this will he addressed that coven He
told me of it." The hunchback sucked in his cheeks
and drew down his eyelids. "Ah, yes," he said,
"my brother loved me I"
"He must have loved you greatly," replied Ab-
ner, "to thus disinherit his own flesh and blood."
"And am not I of his own flesh and blood too?"
cried the hunchback. "The strain of blood in my
brother runs pure in me; in these children it is
diluted. Shall not one love his own blood first?"
"Love!" echoed Abner. "You speak the word,
Gaul; — but do you understand it?"
"I do," said Gaul; "for it bound my brother to
"And did it bind you to him?" said Abner.
I could see the hunchback's great white eyelids
drooping and his lengthened face.
"We were like David and Jonathan," he said "I
1 r i
would have given my right arm for Enoch and he
would have died for me."
"He did!" said Abner.
I saw the hunchback start, and, to conceal the ges-
ture, he stooped and thrust the trunk of the apple
tree a little farther into the fireplace. A cloud of
9parks/sprang up. A gust of wind caught the loose
sash in the casement behind us and shook it as one,
barred out and angry, shakes a door. When the
hunchback rose Abner had gone on.
"If you loved your brother like that," he said,
"you will do him this service — you will sign this
"But, Abner," replied Gaul, "such was not my
brother's will. By the law, these children will in-
herit at my death. Can they not wait?"
"Did you wait?" said Abner.
The hunchback flung up his head.
"Abner," he cried, "what do you mean by that?"
And he searched my uncle's face for some indicatory
sign; but there was no sign there — the face was
stern and quiet.
"I mean," said Abner, "that one ought not to
have an interest in another's death."
"Why not?" said Gaul.
"Because," replied Abner, "one may be tempted
to step in before the providence of God and do its
work for it."
Gaul turned the innuendo with a cunning twist.
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"You mean/ 9 he said, "that these children may
come to seek my death?"
I was astonished at Abner's answer.
"Yes," he said; "that is what I mean."
"Man," cried the hunchback, "you make me
"Laugh as you like," replied Abner; "but I am
sure that these children will not look at this thing as
we have looked at it."
"As who have looked at it?" said Gaul.
"As my brother Rufus and Elnathan Stone and
I," said Abner.
"And so," said the hunchback, "you gentlemen
have considered how to save my life. I am much
obliged to you." He made a grotesque, mocking
bow. "And how have you meant to save it?"
"By the signing of that deed," said Abner.
"I thank you I" cried the hunchback. "But I am
not pleased to save my life that way."
I thought Abner would give some biting answer;
but, instead, he spoke slowly and with a certain
"There is no other way," he said. "We have be-
lieved that the stigma of your death and the odium
on the name and all the scandal would in the end
wrong these children more than the loss of this es-
tate during the term of your natural life; but it is
clear to me that they will not so regard it. And we
are bound to lay it before them if you do not sign
this deed. It is not for my brother Rufus and El-
nathan Stone and me to decide this question."
"To decide what question ?" said Gaul.
"Whether you are to live or die 1" said Abner.
The hunchback's face grew stern and resolute.
He sat down in his chair, put his stick between his
knees and looked my uncle in the eyes.
"Abner," he said, "you are talking in some rid-
dle. . . . Say the thing out plain. Do you think
I forged that will?"
"I do not," said Abner.
"Nor could any man!" cried the hunchback. "It
is in my brother's hand — every word of it; and, be-
sides, there is neither ink nor paper in this house. I
figure on a slate ; and when I have a thing to say I
go and tell it."
"And yet," said Abner, "the day before your
brother's death you bought some sheets of foolscap
of the postmaster."
"I did," said Gaul — "and for my brother. Enoch
wished to make some calculations with his pencil.
I have the paper with his figures on it."
He went to his desk and brought back some
"And yet," said Abner, "this will is written on a
page of foolscap."
"And why not?" said Gaul. "Is it not sold in
every store to Mexico?"
It was the truth — and Abner drummed on die
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"And now," 9aid Gaul, "we have laid one sus-
picion by looking it squarely in the face; let us lay
the other. What did you find about my brother's
death to moon over?"
"Why," said Abner, "should he take his own life
in this house?"
"I do not know that," said Gaul.
"I will tell you," said Abner; "we found a bloody
handprint on your brother !"
"Is that all that you found on him?"
"That is all," said Abner.
"Well," cried Gaul, "does that prove that I
killed him? Let me look your ugly suspicion in
die face. Were not my brother's hands covered
with his blood and was not the bed covered with his
finger-prints, where he had clutched about it in his
"Yes," said Abner; "that is all true."
"And was there any mark or sign in that print,"
said Gaul, "by which you could know that it was
made by any certain hand" — and he spread out his
fingers; — "as, for instance, my hand?"
"No," said Abner.
There was victory in Gaul's face.
He had now learned all that Abner knew and he
no longer feared him. There was no evidence
against him — even I saw that.
'-And now," he cried, "will you get out of my
house? I will have no more words with you. Be*
Abncr did not move. For the last five minutes
he had been at work at something, but I could not
see what it was, for his back was toward me. Now
he turned to the table beside Gaul and I saw what he
had been doing. He had been making a pen out
of a goosequill! He laid the pen down on the table
and beside it a horn of ink. He opened out the
deed that he had brought, put his finger on a line,
dipped the quill into the ink and held it out to Gaul.
"Sign there !" he said.
The hunchback got on his feet, with an oath.
"Begone with your damned paper!" he cried.
Abner did not move.
"When you have signed," he said.
"Signed I" cried the hunchback. "I will see you
and your brother Rufus, and Elnathan Stone, and
all the kit and kittle of you in hell!"
"Gaul," said Abner, "you will surely see all who
are to be seen in hell!"
. By Abner's manner I knew that the end of the
business had arrived. He seized the will and the
envelope that Gaul had brought from his secretary
and held them out before him.
"You tell me," he said, "that these papers were
written at one sitting! Look! The hand that
wrote that envelope was calm and steady, but the
hand that wrote this will shook. See how the letters
wave and jerk! I will explain it. You have kept
that envelope from some old letter; but this paper
was written in this house — in fear! And it was
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written on the morning that your brother died. . . .
Listen! When Elnathan Stone stepped back from
your brother's bed he stumbled over a piece of car-
pet. The under side of that carpet was smeared
with ink, where a bottle had been broken. I put
my finger on it and it was wet."
The hunchback began to howl and bellow like a
beast penned in a corner. I crouched under Ab-
ner's coat in terror. The creature's cries filled the
great, empty house. They rose a hellish crescendo
on the voices of the wind; and for accompaniment
the sleet played shrill notes on the windowpanes,
and the loose shingles clattered a staccato, and the
chimney whistled — like weird instruments under a
And all the time Abner stood looking down at the
man — an implacable, avenging Nemesis — and his
voice, deep and level, did not change.
"But, before that, we knew that you had killed
your brother! We knew it when we stood before
his bed. 'Look there,' said Rufus — 'at that bloody
handprint!' . . . We looked. . . . And we knew
that Enoch's hand had not made that print. Do
you know how we knew that, Gaul? ... I will
tell you. . . . The bloody print on your brother's
right hand was the print of a right hand!"
Gaul signed the deed, and at dawn we rode away,
with the hunchback's promise that he would come
that afternoon before a notary and acknowledge
what he had signed; but he did not comer— neither
on that day nor on any day after that.
When Abner went to fetch him he found him
swinging from his elm tree.
CHAPTER III: The 'Angel of the Lord
I ALWAYS thought my father took a long
chance, but somebody had to take it and cer-
tainly I was the one least likely to be suspected.
It was a wild country. There were no banks. We
had to pay for the cattle, and somebody had to carry
the money. My father and my uncle were always
being watched. My father was right, I think.
"Abner," he said, "I'm going to send Martin.
No one will ever suppose that we would trust this
money to a child."
My uncle drummed on the table and rapped his
heels on the floor. He was a bachelor, stern and
silent. But he could talk • . . and when he
did, he began at the beginning and you heard him
through; and what he said — well, he stood behind
"To stop Martin," my father went on, "would be
only to lose the money; but to stop you would be to
get somebody killed."
I knew what my father meant. He meant that
no one would undertake to rob Abner until after he
had shot him to death.
I ought to say a word about my Uncle Abner.
He was one of those austere, deeply religious men
who were the product of the Reformation. He
always carried a Bible in his pocket and he read it
where he pleased. Once the crowd at Roy's Tavern
tried to make sport of him when he got his book
out by the fire ; but they never tried it again. When
the fight was over Abner paid Roy eighteen silver
dollars for the broken chairs and the table — and he
was the only man in the tavern who could ride a
horse. Abner belonged to the church militant, and
his God was a war lord.
So that is how they came to send me. The money
was in greenbacks in packages. They wrapped it
up in newspaper and put it into a pair of saddle-bags,
and I set out. I was about nine years old. No, it
was not as bad as you think. I could ride a horse
all day when I was nine years old — most any kind
of a horse. I was tough as whit'-leather, and I
knew the country I was going into. You must not
picture a little boy rolling a hoop in the park.
It was an afternoon in early autumn. The clay
roads froze in the night; they thawed out in the day
and they were a bit sticky. I was to stop at Roy's
Tavern, south of the river, and go on in the morn-
ing. Now and then I passed some cattle driver, but
no one overtook me on the road until almost sun-
down; then I heard a horse behind me and a man
came up. I knew him. He was a cattleman named
Dix. He had once been a shipper, but he had come
in for a good deal of bad luck. His partner, Alkire,
had absconded with a big sum of money due the
grazers. This had ruined Dix; he had given up his
The Angel of the Lord
land, which wasn't very much, to the grazers.
After that he had gone over the mountain to his
people, got together a pretty big sum of money and
bought a large tract of grazing land. Foreign
claimants had sued him in the courts on some old
title and he had lost the whole tract and the money
that he had paid for it. He had married a remote
cousin of ours and he had always lived on her lands,
adjoining those of my Uncle Abner.
Dix seemed surprised to see me on the road.
"So it's you, Martin," he said; "I thought Abner
would be going into the upcountry."
One gets to be a pretty cunning youngster, even at
this age, and I told no one what I was about
"Father wants the cattle over the river to run a
month,' 9 I returned easily, "and I'm going up there
to give his orders to the grazers."
He looked me over, then he rapped the saddle-
bags with his knuckles. "You carry a good deal of
baggage, my lad."
I laughed. "Horse feed," I said. "You know
my father I A horse must be fed at dinner time, but
a man can go till he gets it."
One was always glad of any company on the road,
and we fell into an idle talk. Dix said he was going
out into the Ten Mile country; and I have always
thought that was, in fact, his intention. The road
turned south about a mile our side of the tavern. I
never liked Dix; he was of an apologetic manner,
with a cunning, irresolute face.
A little later a man passed us at a gallop. He
was a drover named Marks, who lived beyond my
Uncle Abner, and he was riding hard to get in before
night. He hailed us, but he did not stop ; we got a
shower of mud and Dix cursed him. I have never
seen a more evil face. I suppose it was because Dix
usually had a grin about his mouth, and when that
sort of face gets twisted there's nothing like it.
After that he was silent. He rode with his head
down and his fingers plucking at his jaw, like a man
in some perplexity. At the crossroads he stopped
and sat for some time in the saddle, looking before
him. I left him there, but at the bridge he overtook
me. He said he had concluded to get some supper
and go on after that.
Roy's Tavern consisted of a single big room, with
a loft above it for sleeping quarters. A narrow
covered way connected this room with the house in
which Roy and his family lived. We used to hang
our saddles on wooden pegs in this covered way. I
have seen that wall so hung with saddles that you
could not find a place for another stirrup. But to-
night Dix and I were alone in the tavern. He
looked cunningly at me when I took the saddle-bags
with me into the big room and when I went with
them up the ladder into the loft. But he said
nothing — in fact, he had scarcely spoken. It was
cold; the road had begun to freeze when we got in.
Roy had lighted a big fire. I left Dix before it.
I did not take off my clothes, because Roy's beds
The Angel of the Lord
were mattresses of wheat straw covered with heifer
skins — good enough for summer but pretty cold on
such a night, even with the heavy, hand-woven cover-
let in big white and black checks.
I put the saddle-bags under my head and lay down*
I went at once to sleep, but I suddenly awaked. I
thought there was a candle in the loft, but it was a
gleam of light from the fire below, shining through
a crack in the floor. I lay and watched it, the cover-
let pulled up to my chin. Then I began to wonder
why the fire burned so brightly. Dix ought to be
on his way some time and it was a custom for the last
man to rake out the fire. There was not a sound.
The light streamed steadily through the crack.
Presently it occurred to me that Dix had forgotten
the fire and that I ought to go down and rake it out.
Roy always warned us about the fire when he went
to bed. I got up, wrapped the great coverlet
around me, went over to the gleam of light and
looked down through the crack in the floor. I had
to lie out at full length to get my eye against the
board. The hickory logs had turned to great em-
bers and glowed like a furnace of red coals.
Before this fire stood Dix. He was holding out
his hands and turning himself about as though he
were cold to the marrow; but with all that chill
upon him, when the man's face came into the light I
saw it covered with a sprinkling of sweat.
I shall carry the memory of that face. The grin
was there at the mouth, but it was pulled about;
the eyelids were drawn in; the teeth were clamped
together. I have seen a dog poisoned with strych-
nine look like that.
I lay there and watched the thing. It was as
though something potent and evil dwelling within
the man were in travail to re-form his face upon its
image. You cannot realize how that devilish labor
held me — the face worked as though it were some
plastic stuff, and the sweat oozed through. And all
the time the man was cold; and he was crowding into
the fire and turning himself about and putting out his
hands. And it was as though the heat would no
more enter in and warm him than it will enter in and
warm the ice.
It seemed to scorch him and leave him cold — and
he was fearfully and desperately cold! I could
smell the singe of the fire on him, but it had no power
against this diabolic chill. I began myself to shiver,
although I had the heavy coverlet wrapped around
The thing was a fascinating horror; I seemed to
be looking down into the chamber of some abomi-
nable maternity. The room was filled with the steady
red light of the fire. Not a shadow mov$d in it.
And there was silence. The man had taken off his
boots and he twisted before the fire without a sound.
It was like the shuddering tales of possession or
transformation by a drug. I thought the man
would burn himself to death. His clothes smoked.
How could he be so cold?
The Angel of the Lord
Then, finally, the thing was aver ! I did not see
it for his face was in the fire. But suddenly he grew
composed and stepped back into the room. I tell
you I was afraid to look! I do not know what
thing I expected to see there, but I did not think it
would be Dix.
Well, it was Dix; but not the Dix that any of us
knew. There was a certain apology, a certain in-
decision, a certain servility in that other Dix, and
these things showed about his face. But there was
none of these weaknesses in this man.
His face had been pulled into planes of firmness
and decision; the slack in his features had been
taken up; the furtive moving of the eye was gone.
He stood now squarely on his feet and he was full
of courage. But I was afraid of him as I have
never been afraid of any human creature in this
world! Something that had been servile in him,
that had skulked behind disguises, that had worn the
habiliments of subterfuge, had now come forth; and
it had molded the features of the man to its abom-
Presently he began to move swiftly about the
room. He looked out at the window and he listened
at the door; then he went softly into the covered way.
I thought he was going on his journey; but then he
could not be going with his boots there beside the
fire. In a moment he returned with a saddle blanket
in his hand and came softly across the room to the
Then I understood the thing that he intended, and
I was motionless with fear. I tried to get up, but
I could not. I could* only lie there with my eye
strained to the crack in the floor. His foot was on
the ladder, and I could already feel his hand on my
throat and that blanket on my face, and the suffoca-
tion of death in me, when far away on the hard road
I heard a horse !
He heard it, too, for he stopped on the ladder and
turned his evil face about toward the door. The
horse was on the long hill beyond the bridge, and
he was coming as though the devil rode in his saddle.
It was a hard, dark night. The frozen road waa
like flint; I could hear the iron of the shoes ring.
Whoever rode that horse rode for his life or for
something more than his life, or he was mad. I
heard the horse strike the bridge and thunder across
it. And all the while Dix hung there on the ladder
by his hands and listened. Now he sprang softly
down, pulled on his boots and stood up before the
fire, his face — this new face — gleaming with its evil
courage. The next, moment the horse stopped.
I could hear him plunge under the bit, his iron
shoes ripping the frozen road; then the door leaped
back and my Uncle Abner was in the room. I was
so glad that my heart almost choked me and for a
moment I could hardly see: — everything was in a sort
Abner swept the room in a glance, then he
The Angel of the Lord
"Thank God I" he said; "I'm in time." And he
drew his hand down over his face with the fingers
hard and dose as though he pulled something away.
"In time for what?" said Dix.
Abner looked him over. And I could see the
muscles of his big shoulders stiffen as he looked.
And again he looked him over. Then he spoke and
his voice was strange.
"Dix," he said, "is it you?"
"Who would it be but me?" said Dix.
"It might be the devil," said Abner* "Do you
know what your face looks like?"
"No matter what it looks like !" said Dix.
"And so," said Abner, "we have got courage with
this new face."
Dix threw up his head.
"Now, look here, Abner," he said, "I've had
about enough of your big manner. You ride a horse
to death and you come plunging in here; what the
devil's wrong with you?"
"There's nothing wrong with me," replied Abner,
and his voice was low. "But there's something
damnably wrong with you, Dix."
"The devil take you," said Dix, and I saw him
measure Abner with his eye. It was not fear that
held him back; fear was gone out of the creature;
I think it was a kind of prudence.
Abner's eyes kindled, but his voice remained low
"Those are big words," he said.
"Well," cried Dix, "get out of the door then and
let me pass!"
"Not just yet," said Abner; "I have something to
say to you."
"Say it then," cried Dix, "and get out of the
"Why hurry?" said Abner. "It's a long time un-
til daylight, and I have a good deal to say."
"You'll not say it to me," said Dix. "I've got a
trip to make tonight; get out of the door."
Abner did not move. "You've got a longer trip
to make tonight than you think, Dix," he said; "but
you're going to hear what I have to say before you
set out on it."
I saw Dix rise on his toes and I knew what he
wished for. He wished for a weapon; and he
wished for the bulk of bone and muscle that would
have a chance against Abner. But he had neither
the one nor the other. And he stood there on his
toes and began to curse — low, vicious, withering
oaths, that were like the swish of a knife.
Abner was looking at the man with a curious in*
"It is strange," he said, as though speaking to
himself, "but it explains the thing. While one is
the servant of neither, one has the courage of
neither; but wheri he finally makes his choice he gets
what his master has to give him."
Then he spoke to Dix.
"Sit down !" he said ; and it was in that deep, level
The Angel of the Lord
voice that Abner used when he was standing close
behind his words. Every man in the hills knew that
voice; one had only a moment to decide after he
heard it. Dix knew that, and yet for one instant
he hung there on his toes, his eyes shimmering like
a weasel's, his mouth twisting. He was not afraid 1
If he had had the ghost of a chance against Abner
he would have taken it. But he knew he had not,
and with an oath he threw the saddle blanket into
a corner and sat down by the fire.
Abner came away from the door then. He took
off his great coat. He put a log on the fire and he
sat down across the hearth from Dix. The new
hickory sprang crackling into flames. For a good
while there was silence; the two men sat at either
end of the hearth without a word. Abner seemed
to have fallen into a study of the man before him.
Finally he spoke :
"Dix," he said, "do you believe in the providence
Dix flung up his head.
"Abner," he cried, "if you are going to talk non- .
sense I promise you upon my oath that I will not
stay to listen."
Abner did not at once reply. He seemed to be-
gin now at another point.
"Dix," he said, "you've had a good deal of bad
luck. . . . Perhaps you wish it put that way."
"Now, Abner," he cried, "you speak the truth; I
have had hell's luck."
"Hell's luck you have had," replied Abner. "It
is a good word. I accept it. Your partner disap-
peared with all the money of the grazers on the
other side of the river; you lost the land in your
lawsuit; and you are to-night without a dollar. That
was a big tract of land to lose. Where did you get
so great a sum of money?"
"I have told you a hundred times," replied Dix.
"I got it from my people over the mountains. You
know where I got it."
"Yes," said Abner. "I know where you got it,
Dix. And I know another thing. But first I want
to show you this," and he took a little penknife out
of his pocket. "And I want to tell you that I believe
in the providence of God, Dix."
"I don't care a fiddler's damn what you believe
in," said Dix.
"But you do care what I know," replied Abner*
"What do you know?" said Dix.
"I know where your partner is," replied Abner.
I was uncertain about what Dix was going to do,
but finally he answered with a sneer.
"Then you know something that nobody else
"Yes," replied Abner, "there is another man who
"Who?" said Dix.
"You," said Abner.
Dix leaned over in his chair and looked at Abner
The Angel of the Lord
"Abner," he cried, "you are talking nonsense.
Nobody knows where Alkire is. If I knew I'd go
"Dix," Abner answered, and it was again in that
deep, level voice, "if I had got here five minutes later
you would have gone after him. I can promise you
"Now, listen! I was in the upcountry when I
got your word about the partnership ; and I was on
my way back when at Big Run I broke a stirrup-
kather. I had no knife and I went into the store
and bought this one; then the storekeeper told me
that Alkire had gone to see you. I didn't want to
interfere with him and I turned bade. ... So I did
not become your partner. And so I did not disap-
pear. . . . What was it that prevented? The
broken stirrup-leather? The knife? In old times,
Dix, men were so blind that God had to ope? their
eyes before they could see His angel in the way be-
fore them. . . . They are still blind, but they ought
not to be that blind. • . . Well, on the night that
Alkire disappeared I met him on his way to your
house. It was out there at the bridge. He had
broken a stirrup-leather and he was trying to fasten
it with a nail. He asked me if I had a knife, and I
gave him this one. It was beginning to rain and I
went on, leaving him there in the road with the
knife in his hand."
Abner paused; the muscles of his great iron jaw
"God forgive me," he said; "it was His angel
again ! I never saw Alkire after that."
"Nobody ever saw him after that," said Dix.
"He got out of the hills that night."
"No," replied Abner; "it was not in the night
when Alkire started on his journey; it was in the
"Abner," said Dix, "you talk like a fool. If Al-
kire had traveled the road in the day somebody
would have seen him."
"Nobody could see him on the road he traveled,"
"What road?" said Dix.
"Dix," replied Abner, "you will learn that soon
Abner looked hard at the man.
"You saw Alkire when he started on his journey,"
he continued; "but did you see who it was that went
"Nobody went with him," replied Dix; "Alkire
"Not alone," said Abner; "there was another."
"I didn't see him," said Dix.
"And yet," continued Abner, "you made Alkire
go with him."
I saw cunning enter Dix's face. He was puz-
zled, but he thought Abner off the scent.
"And I made Alkire go with somebody, did I?
•Well, who was it? Did you see him?"
"Nobody ever saw him."
The Angel of the Lord
"He must be a stranger."
"No," replied Abner, "he rode the hills before we
came into them."
"Indeed!" said Dix. "And what kind of a horse
did he ride?"
"White!" said Abner.
Dix got some inkling of what Abner meant now,
and his face grew livid.
"What are you driving at?" he cried. "You sit
here beating around the bush. If you know any-
thing, say it out; let's hear it. What is it?"
Abner put out his big sinewy hand as though to
thrust Dix back into his chair.
"Listen!" he said. "Two days after that I
wanted to get out into the Ten Mile country and I
went through your lands; I rode a path through the
narrow valley west of your house. At a point on
the path where there is an apple tree something
caught my eye and I stopped. Five minutes later I
knew exactly what had happened under that apple
tree. . . . Someone had ridden there; he had
stopped under that tree; then something happened
and the horse had run away — I knew that by the
tracks of a horse on this path. I knew that the
horse had a rider and that it had stopped under this
tree, because there was a limb cut from the tree at
a certain height. I knew the horse had remained
there, because the small twigs of the apple limb had
been pared off, and they lay in a heap on the path.
I knew that something had frightened the horse and
that it had run away, because the sod was torn up
where it had jumped. . . . Ten minutes later I
knew that the rider had not been in the saddle when
the horse jumped; I knew what it was that had
frightened the horse ; and I knew that the thing had
occurred the day before. Now, how did I know
"Listen ! I put my horse into the tracks of that
other horse under the tree and studied the ground.
Immediately I saw where the weeds beside the path
had been crushed, as though some animal had been
lying down there, and in the very center of that bed
I saw a little heap of fresh earth. That was strange,
Dix, that fresh earth where the animal had been
lying down ! It had come there after the animal had
got up, or else it would have been pressed flat. But
where had it come from?
"I got off and walked around the apple tree, mov-
ing out from it in an ever-widening circle. Finally
I found an ant heap, the top of which had been
scraped away as though one had taken up the loose
earth in his hands. Then I went back and plucked
up some of the earth. The under clods of it were
colored as with red paint. . . . No, it wasn't paint.
"There was a brush fence some fifty yards away.
I went oyer to it and followed it down.
"Opposite the apple tree the weeds were again
crushed as though some animal had lain there. I
sat down in that place and drew a line with my eye
across a log of the fence to a limb of the apple tree*
The Angel of the Lord
Then I got on my horse and again put him in the
tracks of that other horse under the tree ; the imag-
inary line passed through the pit of my stomach I
... I am four inches taller than Alkire."
It was then that Dix began to curse. I had seen
his face work while Abner was speaking and that
spray of sweat had reappeared. But he kept the
courage he had got.
"Lord Almighty, man!" he cried. "How pret-
tily you sum it up ! We shall presently have Law-
yer Abner with his brief. Because my renters have
killed a calf; because one of their horses frightened
at the blood has bolted, and because they cover the
blood with earth so the other horses traveling the
path may not do the like; straightway I have shot
Alkire out of his saddle. . . • Man! What a
mare's nest! And now, Lawyer Abner, with your
neat little conclusions, what did I do with Alkire
after I had killed him? Did I cause him to vanish
into the air with a smell of sulphur or did I cause
the earth to yawn and Alkire to descend into its
"Dix," replied Abner, "your words move some-
what near the truth."
"Upon my soul," cried Dix, "you compliment me.
If I had that trick of magic, believe me, you would
be already some distance down."
Abner remained a moment silent.
"Dix," he said, "what does it mean when one
finds a plot of earth resodded?"
"Is that a riddle?" cried Dix. "Well, confound
me, if I don't answer it ! You charge me with mur-
der and then you fling in this neat conundrum. Now,
what could be the answer to that riddle, Abner? If
one had done a murder this sod would overlie a
grave and Alkire would be in it in his bloody shirt.
Do I give the answer?"
"You do not," replied Abner.
"No!" cried Dix. "Your sodded plot no grave,
and Alkire not within it waiting for the trump of
Gabriel ! Why, man, where are your little damned
"Dix," said Abner, "you do not deceive me in the
least; Alkire is not sleeping in a grave."
"Then in the air," sneered Dix, "with a smell of
"Nor in the air," said Abner.
"Then consumed with fire, like the priests of
"Nor with fire," said Abner.
Dix had got back the quiet of his face ; this ban-
ter had put him where he was when Abner entered.
"This is *11 fools' talk," he said; "if I had killed
Alkire, what could I have done with the body? And
the horse ! What could I have done with the horse ?
Remember, no man has ever seen Alkire's horse any
more than he has seen Alkire — and for the reason
that Alkire rode him out of the hills that night.
Now, look here, Abner, you have asked me a good
many questions. I will ask you one. Among your
The Angel of the Lord
little conclusions do you find that I did this thing
alone or with the aid of others?"
"Dix," replied Abner, "I will answer that upon
my own belief you had no accomplice."
"Then," said Dix, "how could I have carried off
the horse? Alkire I might carry; but his horse
weighed thirteen hundred pounds!"
"Dix," said Abner, "no man helped you do this
thing; but there were men who helped you to con-
"And now," cried Dix, "the man is going mad!
Who could I trust with such work, I ask you? Have
I a renter that would not tell it when he moved on tq
another's land, or when he got a quart of cider in
him? Where are the men who helped me?"
"Dix," said Abner, "they have been dead these
I heard Dix laugh then, and his evil face lighted
as though a candle were behind it. And, in truth,
I thought he had got Abner silenced.
"In the name of Heaven!" he cried. "With such
proofs it is a wonder that you did not have me
"And hanged you should have been," said Abner.
"Well," cried Dix, "go and tell the sheriff, and
mind you lay before him those little, neat conclu-
sions : How from a horse track and the place where
a calf was butchered you have reasoned on Allure's
murder, and to conceal the body and the horse you
have reasoned on the aid of men who were rotting
in their graves when I was born ; and see how he will
Abner gave no attention to the man's flippant
speech. He got his great silver watch out of his
pocket, pressed the stem and looked. Then he
spoke in his deep, even voice.
"Dix," he said, "it is nearly midnight; in an hour
you must be on your journey, and I have something
more to say. Listen ! I knew this thing had been
done the previous day because it had rained on the
night that I met Alkire, and the earth of this ant
heap had been disturbed after that. Moreover, this
earth had been frozen, and that showed a night had
passed since it had been placed there. And I knew
the rider of that horse was Alkire because, beside
the path near the severed twigs lay my knife, where
it had fallen from his hand. This much I learned
in some fifteen minutes; the rest took somewhat
"I followed the track of the horse until it stopped
in the little valley below. It was easy to follow
while the horse ran, because the sod was torn; but
when it ceased to run there was no track that I could
follow. There was a little stream threading the
valley, and I began at the wood and came slowly up
to see if I could find where the horse had crossed.
Finally I found a horse track and there was also a
man's track, which meant that you had caught the
horse and were leading it away. But where?
"On the rising ground above there was an old or-
The Angel of the Lord
chard where there had once been a house. The
work about that house had been done a hundred
years. It was rotted down now. You had opened
this orchard into the pasture. I rode all over the
face of this hill and finally I entered this orchard.
There was a great, flat, moss-covered stone lying a
few steps from where the house had stood. As I
looked I noticed that the moss growing from it into
the earth had been broken along the edges of the
stone, and then I noticed that for a few feet about
the stone the ground had been resodded. I got
down and lifted up some of this new sod. Under it
the earth had been soaked with that . . . red
"It was clever of you, Dix, to resod the ground;
that took only a little time and it effectually con-
cealed the place where you had killed the horse;
but it was foolish of you to forget that the broken
moss around the edges of the great flat stone could
not be mended."
"Abner!" cried Dix. "Stop!" And I saw that
spray of sweat, and his face working like kneaded
bread, and the shiver of that abominable chill on
Abner was silent for a moment and then he went
on, but from another quarter.
"Twice," said Abner, "the Angel of the Lord
stood before me and I did not know it; but the third
time I knew it. It is not in the cry of the wind, nor
in the voice of many waters that His presence is
made known to us. That man in Israel had only the
sign that the beast under him would not go on.
Twice I had as good a sign, and tonight, when
Marks broke a stirrup-leather before my house and
called me to the door and asked me for a knife to
mend it, I saw and I came !"
The log that Abner had thrown on was burned
down, and the fire was again a mass of embers; the
room was filled with that dull red light. Dix had
got on to his feet, and he stood now twisting before
the fire, his hands reaching out to it, and that cold
creeping in his bones, and the smell of the fire on
Abner rose. And when he spoke his voice was
like a thing that has dimensions and weight.
"Dix," he said, "you robbed the grazers; you shot
Alkire out of his saddle ; and a child you would have
And I saw the sleeve of Abner's coat begin to
move, then it stopped. He stood staring at some-
thing against the wall. I looked to see what the
thing was, but I did not see it. Abner was looking
beyond the wall, as though it had been moved away.
And all the time Dix had been shaking with that
hellish cold, and twisting on the hearth and crowding
into the fire. Then he fell back, and he was the
Dix I knew — his face was slack; his eye was fur-
tive; and he was full of terror.
It was his weak whine that awakened Abner. He
put up his hand and brought the fingers hard down
The Angel of the Lord
over his face, and then he looked at this new crea-
ture, cringing and beset with fears.
"Dix," he said, "Alkire was a just man; he sleeps
as peacefully in that abandoned well under his horse
as he would sleep in the churchyard My hand has
been held back; you may go. Vengeance is mine, I
will repay, saith the Lord."
"But where shall I go, Abner?" the creature
wailed; "I have no money and I am cold."
Abner took out his leather wallet and flung it
toward the door.
"There is money," he said — "a hundred dollars
— and there is my coat. Go ! But if I find you in
the hills to-morrow, or if I ever find you, I warn
you in the name of the living God that I will stamp
you out of life!"
I saw the loathsome thing writhe into Abner's
coat and seize the wallet and slip out through the
door; and a moment later I heard a horse. And I
crept back on to Roy's heifer skin.
When I came down at daylight my Uncle Abner
was reading by the fire.
Chapter IV: An Act of God
IT was the last day of the County Fair, and I
stood beside my Uncle Abner, on the edge of
the crowd, watching the performance of a
On a raised platform, before a little house on
wheels, stood a girl dressed like a gypsy, with her
arms extended, while an old man out in the oqowd,
standing on a chair, was throwing great knives that
Hemmed her in with a steel hedge. The girl was
very young, scarcely more than a child, and the man
was old, but he was hale and powerful. He wore
wooden shoes, travel-worn purple velvet trousers, a
red sash, and a white blouse of a shirt open at the
I was watching the man, whose marvelous skill
fascinated me. He seemed to be looking always at
the crowd of faces that passed between him and the
wagon, and yet the great knife fell to a hair on the
target, grazing the body of the girl.
But while the old man with his sheaf of knives
held my attention, it was the girl that Abner looked
at. He stood studying her face with a strange rapt
attention. Sometimes he lifted his head and looked
vacantly over the crowd with the eyelids narrowed,
like one searching for a memory that eluded him,
An Act of God
then he came back to the face in its cluster of dark
ringlets, framed in knives that stood quivering in
the poplar board.
It was thus that my father found us when he
"Have you noticed Blackford about? 9 ' he said;
"I want to see him."
"No," replied Abner, "but he should be here, I
think; he is at every frolic."
"I sent him the money for his cattle last night,"
my father went on, "and I wish to know if he got
Abner turned upon him at that.
"You will always take a chance with that scoun-
drel, Rufus," he said, "and some day you will be
robbed. His lands are covered with a deed of
"Well," replied my father, with his hearty laugh,
"I shall not be robbed this time. I have Blackford's
request over his signature for the money, with the
statement that the letter is to be evidence of its pay-
And he took an envelope out of his pocket and
handed it to Abner.
My uncle read the letter to the end, and then his
great fingers tightened on the sheet, and he read it
carefully again, and yet again, with his eyes nar-
rowed and his jaw protruding. Finally he looked
my father in the face.
"Blackford did not write this letter!" he said.
"Not write it!" my father cried. "Why, man, I
know the deaf mute's writing like a book. I know
every line and slant of his letters, and every crook
and twist of his signature."
But my uncle shook his head.
My father was annoyed.
"Nonsense !" he said. "I can call a hundred men
on these fair grounds who will swear that Black-
ford made every stroke of the pen in that letter, even
against his denial, and though he bring Moses and
the prophets to support him."
Abner looked my father steadily in the face.
"That is true, Rufus," he said; "the thing is per-
fect. There is no letter or line or stroke or twist
*of the pen that varies from Blackford's hand, and
every grazer in the hills, to a man, will swear upon
the Bible that he wrote it. Blackford himself can-
not tell this writing from his own, nor can any other
living man ; and yet the deaf mute did not write it."
"Well," said my father, "yonder is Blackford
now; we will ask him."
But they never did.
I saw the tall deaf mute swagger up and enter the
crowd before the mountebank's wagon. And then W
thing happened. The chair upon which the old man
stood broke under him. He fell and the great knife
in his hand swerved downward and went through
the deaf mute's body, as though it were a cheese.
The man was dead when we picked him up; the
knife blade stood out between his shoulders, and
An Act of God
the haft was jammed against his bloody coat.
We carried him into the Agricultural Hall among
the prize apples and the pumpkins, summoned
Squire Randolph from the cattle pens, and brought
the mountebank before him.
Randolph came in his big blustering manner and
sat down as though he were the judge of all the
world. He heard the evidence, and upon the word
of every witness the tragedy was an accident clean
through. But it was an accident that made one
shudder. It came swift and deadly and unforeseen,
like a vengeance of God in the Book of Kings. One
passing among his fellows, in no apprehension, had
been smitten out of life. There was terror in the
mystery of selection that had thus claimed Black-
ford in this crowd for death. It brought our voices
to a whisper to feel how unprotected a man was in
this life, and how little we could see.
And yet the thing had the aspect of design and
moved with our stern Scriptural beliefs. In the pul-
pit this deaf mute had been an example and a warn-
ing. His life was profligate and loose. He was a«
cattle shipper who knew the abominations indexed
by the Psalmist. He was an Ishmaelite In more
ways than his affliction. He had no wife nor child,
nor any next of kin. He had been predestined to an
evil end by every good housewife in the hills. He
would go swiftly and by violence into hell, the preach-
ers said; and swiftly and by violence he had gone
on this autumn morning when the world was like an
He lay there among the sheaves of corn and the
fruits and cereals of the earth, so fully come to the
end predestined that those who had cried the
prophecy the loudest were the most amazed. With
all their vaporings, they could not believe that God
would be so expeditious, and they spoke in whispers
and crowded about on tiptoe, as though the Angel
of the Lord stood at the entrance of this little festal
hall, as before the threshing floor of Araunah the
Randolph could do nothing but find the thing an
accident, and let the old man go. But he thundered
from behind his table on the dangers of such a trade
as this. And all the time the mountebank stood stu-
pidly before him like a man dazed, and the little
girl wept and clung to the big peasant's hand. Ran-
dolph pointed to the girl and told the old man that
he would kill her some day, and with the gestures
and authority of omnipotence forbade his trade. The
old mountebank promised to cast his knives into
the river and get at something else. Randolph spoke
upon the law of accidents sententiously for some
thirty minutes, quoted Lord Blackstone and Mr.
Chitty, called the thing an act of God, within a cer-
tain definition of the law, and rose.
My Uncle Abner had been standing near the door,
looking on with a grave, undecipherable face. He
had gone through the crowd to the chair when the
An Act of God
old man fell, had drawn the knife out of Blackford's
body, but he had not helped to carry him in, and he
had remained by the door, his big shoulders tower-
ing above the audience. Randolph stopped beside
him as he went out, took a pinch of snuff, and trum-
peted in his big, many-colored handkerchief.
"Ah, Abner," he said, "do you concur in my de-
"You called the thing an act of God," replied Ab-
ner, "and I concur in that."
"And so it is," said Randolph, with judicial
pomp; "the writers on the law, in their disquisitions
upon torts, include within that term those inscrut-
able injuries that no human intelligence can foresee;
for instance, floods, earthquakes and tornadoes."
"Now, that is very stupid in the writers on the
law," replied Abner; "I should call such injuries
acts of the devil. It would not occur to me to be-
lieve that God would use the agency of the elements
in order to injure the innocent."
"Well," said Randolph, "the writers upon the
law have not been theologians, although Mr. Green-
leaf was devout, and Chitty with a proper rever-
ence, and my lords Coke and Blackstone and Sir
Matthew Hale in respectable submission to the es-
tablished church. They have grouped and catalogued
injuries with delicate and nice distinctions with re-
spect to their being actionable at law, and they found
certain injuries to be acts of God, but I do not read
that they found any injury to be an act of the devil.
The law does not recognize the sovereignty and do-
minion of the devil."
"Then," replied Abner, "with great fitness is the
law represented blindfold. I have not entered any
jurisdiction where his writs have failed to run."
There was a smile about the door that would have
broken into laughter but for the dead man inside.
Randolph blustered, consulted his snuffbox, and
turned the conversation into a neighboring channel.
"Do you think, Abner," he said, "that this old
showman will give up his dangerous practice as he
"Yes," replied Abner, "he will give it up, but not
because he promised you."
And he walked away to my father, took him by
the arm, and led him aside.
"Rufus," he said, "I have learned something.
Your receipt is valid."
"Of course it is valid," replied my father; "it is
in Blackford's hand."
"Well," said Abner, "he cannot come back to
deny it, and I will not be a witness for him."
"What do you mean, Abner?" my father said.
"You say that Blackford did not write this letter,
and now you say that it is valid."
"I mean," replied Abner, "that when the one en-
titled to a debt receives it, that is enough."
Then he walked away into the crowd, his head
lifted and his fingers locked behind his massive back.
The County Fair closed that evening in much gos-
An Act of God
sip and many idle comments on Blackford's end.
The chimney corner lawyers, riding out with the
homing crowd, vapored upon Mr. Jefferson's Statute
of Descents, and how Blackford's property would
escheat to the state since there was no next of kin,
and were met with the information that his lands and
his cattle would precisely pay his debts, with an
eagle or two beyond for a coffin. And, after the
manner of lawyers, were not silenced, but laid down
what the law would be if only the facts were agree-
able to their premise. And the prophets, sitting in
their wagons, assembled their witnesses and estab-
lished the dates at which they had been prophetically
Evening descended, and the fair grounds were
mostly deserted. Those who lived at no great dis-
tance had moved their live stock with the crowd and
had given up their pens and stalls. But my father,
who always brought a drove of prize cattle to these
fairs, gave orders that we should remain until the
morning. The distance home was too great and the
roads were filled. My father's cattle were no less
sacred than the bulls of Egypt, and not to be
crowded by a wagon wheel or ridden into by a
The night fell. There was no moon, but the earth
was not in darkness. The sky was clear and sown
with stars like a seeded field. I did not go to bed in
the cattle stall filled with clover hay under a hand-
woven blanket, as I was intended to do. A young-
ster at a certain age is a sort of jackal and loves
nothing in this world so much as to prowl over the
ground where a crowd of people has encamped Be-
sides, I wished to know what had become of the old
mountebank, and it was a thing I soon discovered.
His wagon stood on the edge of the ground among
the trees near the river, with the door closed His
horse, tethered to a wheel, was nosing an armful of
hay. The light of the stars filtered through the
treetops, filled the wheels with shadows and threw
one side of the wagon into the blackness of the pit*
I went down to the fringe of trees; there I sat squat-
ted on the earth until I heard a footstep and saw my
Uncle Abner coming toward the wagon. He
walked as I had seen him walking in the crowd, his
hands behind him and his face lifted as though he
considered something that perplexed him. He came
to the steps, knocked with his clenched hand 04 the
door, and when a voice replied, entered.
Curiosity overcame me. I scurried up to the dark
side of the wagon. There a piece of fortune
awaited me; a gilded panel had cracked with some
jolt upon the road, and by perching myself upon the
wheel I could see inside. The old man had been
seated behind a table made by letting down a board
hinged to the wall. His knives were lying on the
floor beside him, bound together in a sheaf with a
twine string. There were some packets of old let-
ters on the table and a candle. The little girl lay
asleep in a sort of bunk at the end of the wagon.
An Act of God
The old man stood up when my uncle entered, and
his face, that had been dull and stupid before the
justice of the peace, was now keen and bright. .
"Monsieur does me an honor," he said. The
words were an interrogation with no welcome in
"No honor," replied my uncle, standing with his
hat on; "but possibly a service."
"That would be strange," the mountebank said
dryly, "for I have received no service from any man
"You have a short memory," replied Abner; "the
justice of the peace rendered you a great service on
this day. Do you put no value on your life ?"
"My life has not been in danger, monsieur," he
"I think it has," replied Abner.
"Then monsieur questions the decision?"
"No," said Abner; "I think it was the very wis-
est decision that Randolph ever made."
"Then why does monsieur say that my life was in
"Well," replied my uncle, "are not the lives of all
men in danger ? Is there any day or hour of a day
in which they are secure, or any tract or parcel of
this earth where danger is not? And can a man
say when he awakes at daylight in his bed, on this
day I shall go into danger, or I shall not? In the
light it is, and in the darkness it is, and where one
looks to find it, and where he does not. Did Black-
ford believe himself in danger today when he passed
"Ah, monsieur," replied the man, "that was a
My uncle picked up a stool, placed it by the table
and sat down. He took off his hat and set it on his
knees, then he spoke, looking at the floor.
"Do you believe in God?"
I saw the old man rub his forehead with his hand
and the ball of his first finger make a cross.
"Yes, monsieur," he said, "I do."
"Then," replied Abner, "you can hardly believe
that things happen out of chance."
"We call it chance, monsieur," said the man,
"when we do not understand it."
"Sometimes we use a better term," replied Ab-
ner. "Now, today Randolph did not understand
this death of Blackford, and yet he called it an act
"Who knows," said the man; "are not the ways
of God past finding out?"
"Not always," replied my uncle.
He gathered his chin into his hand and sat for
some time motionless, then he continued :
"I have found out something about this one."
The old mountebank moved to his stool beyond
the table and sat down.
"And what is that, monsieur?" he said.
"That you are in danger of your life — for one
An Act of God
"In what danger?"
"Do you come from the south of Europe," re-
plied Abner, "and forget that when a man is killed
there are others to threaten his assassin?"
"But this Blackford has no kin to carry a blood
feud," said the mountebank.
"And so," cried Abner, "you knew that before
you killed him. And yet, in spite of that precau-
tion, there stood a man in the crowd before the jus-
tice of the peace who held your life in his hand. He
had but to speak."
"And why did he not speak — this man?" said the
mountebank, looking at Abner across the table.
"I will tell you that," replied Abn$r. "He
feared that the justice of the law might contravene
the justice of God. It is a fabric woven from many
threads — this justice of God. I saw three of these
threads today stretching into the great loom, and I
feared to touch them lest I disturb the weaver at his
work. I saw men see a murder and not know it. I
saw a child see its father and not know it, and I saw
a letter in the handwriting of a man who did not
The face of the old mountebank did not whiten,
but instead it grew stern and resolute, and the mus-
cles came out in it so that it seemed a thing of cords
under the tanned skin.
"The proofs," he said.
"They are all here," replied Abner.
He stooped, lifted the sheaf of knives, broke the
string and spread them on the table. He selected
the one from which Blackford's blood had been
"Randolph examined this knife," he continued,
"but not the others; he assumed that they are all
alike. Well, they are not. The others are dull,
but this one has the edge of a razor."
And he plucked a piece of paper from the table
and sheared it in two. Then he put the knife down
on the board and looked toward the far end of the
"And the child's face," he said — "I was not cer-
tain of that until I saw Blackford's ironed out under
the hand of death, and then I knew. And the let-
But the old man was on his feet straining over
the table, his features twitching like a taut rope.
"Hush! Hush!" he said.
There came a little gust of wind that whispered
in the dry grass and blew the dead leaves against the
wagon and about my face. They fluttered like a
presence, these dead leaves, and pecked and clawed
at the gilded panel like the nails of some feeble hand.
I began to be assailed with fear as I sat there alone
in the darkness looking in upon this tragedy.
My Uncle Abner sat down, and the old man re-
mained with the palms of his hands pressed against
the table. Finally he spoke.
"Monsieur," he said, "shall a man lead another
into hell and escape the pit himself? Yes, she is his
An Act of God
daughter, and her mother was mine, and I have
killed him. He could not speak, but with those let-
ters he persuaded her."
The man paused and turned over the packet of
yellow envelopes tied up with faded ribbon.
"And she believed what a woman will always be-
lieve. What would you have done, monsieur? Go
to the law — your English law that gives the woman
a pittance and puts her out of the court-house door
for the ribald to laugh at! Diable! Monsieur,
that is not the law. I know the law, as my father
and my father's father, and your father and your
father's father knew it. I would have killed him
then, when she died, but for this child. I would have
followed him into these hills, day after day, like his
shadow behind him, until I got a knife into him and
ripped him up like a butchered pig. But I could
not go to the hangman and leave this child, and so
He sat down.
"We can wait, monsieur. That is one thing we
have in my country — patience. And when I was
ready I killed him."
The old man paused and put out his hand, palm
upward, on the table. It was a wonderful hand,
like a live thing.
"You have eyes, monsieur, but the others are as
blind men. Did they think that hand could have
failed me ? Cunning men have made machinery so
accurate that you marvel at them; but there was
never a machine with the accuracy of the human
hand when it is trained as we train it. Monsieur,
I could scratch a line on the door behind you with
a needle, and with my eyes closed set a knife point
into every twist and turn of it. Why, monsieur,
there was a straw clinging to Blackford's coat — a
straw that had fallen on him as he passed some horse
stall. I marked it as he came up through the crowd,
and I split it with the knife.
"And now, monsieur?"
But my uncle stopped him. "Not yet," he said.
"I am concerned about the living and not the dead.
If I had thought of the dead only, I should have
spoken this day; but I have thought also of the liv-
ing. W.hat have you done for the child?"
There came a great tenderness into the old man's
"I have brought it up in love," he said, "and in
honor, and I have got its inheritance for it."
He stopped and indicated the pack of letters."
"I was about to burn these when you came in,
monsieur, for they have served their purpose. I
thought I might need to know Blackford's hand and
I set out to learn it. Not in a day, monsieur, nor a
week, like your common forger, and with an untried
hand — but in a year, and years — with a hand that
obeys me, I went over and over every letter of every
word until I could write the man's hand, not an imi-
tation of it, monsieur, not that, but the very hand
itself — the very hand that Blackford writes with his
An Act of God
own fingers. And it was well, for I was able to get
the child all that Blackford had, beyond his debts,
by a letter that no man could know that Blackford
did not write."
"I knew that he did not write it," said Abner.
The old man smiled.
"You jest, monsieur," he said; "Blackford him-
self could not tell the writing from his own. I could
not, nor can any living man."
"That is true," replied Abner; "the letter is in
Blackford's hand, as he would have written it with
his own fingers. It is no imitation, as you say; it
is the very writing of the man, and yet he did not
;write it, and when I saw it I knew that he did not."
The old man's face was incredulous.
"How could you know that, monsieur?" he said.
My uncle took the letter which my father had
received out of his pocket and spread it out on the
"I will tell you," he said, "how I knew that Black-
ford did not write this letter, although it is in his
very hand. When my brother Ruf us showed me
this letter, and I read it, I noticed that there were
words misspelled in it. Well, that of itself was
nothing for the deaf mute did not always spell cor-
rectly. It was the manner in which the words were
misspelled. Under the old system, when a deaf
mute was taught to write he was taught by the eye ;
consequently, he writes words as he remembers them
to look, and not as he remembers them to sound.
His mistakes, then, are mistakes of the eye and not
of the ear. And in this he differs from every man
who can hear; for the man who can hear, when he
is uncertain about the spelling of a word, spells it
as it sounds phonetically, using not a letter that looks
like the correct one, but a letter that sounds like it
-—using V for V and V for V — a thing no deaf
mute would ever do in this world, because he does
not know what letters sound like. Consequently,
when I saw the words in this letter misspelled by
sound — when I saw that the person who had writ-
ten this letter remembered his word as a sound, and
by the arrangement of the letters in it was endeav-
oring to indicate that sound — I knew he could hear."
The old man did not reply, but he rose and stood
before my uncle. He stood straight and fearless,
his long white hair thrown back, his bronzed throat
exposed, his face lifted, and his eyes calm and level,
like some ancient druid among his sacred oak trees.
And I crowded my face against the cracked panel,
straining to hear what he would say.
"Monsieur," he said, "I have done an act of jus-
tice, not as men do it, but as the providence of God
does it. With care and with patience I have accom-
plished every act, so that to the eyes of men it bore
the relation and aspect of God's providence. And
all who saw were content but you. You have pried
and ferreted behind these things, and now you must
bear the obligations of your knowledge."
He spread out his hands toward the sleeping girl.
An Act of God
"Shall this child grow up to honor in ignorance,
or in knowledge go down to hell? Shall she know
what her mother was, and what her father was, and
what I am, and be fouled by the knowledge of it,
and shall she be stripped of her inheritance and left
not only outlawed, but paupered? And shall I go
to the hangman, and she to the street? These are
things for you to decide, since you would search out
what was hidden and reveal what was covered! I
leave it in your hands."
"And I," replied Abner, rising, "leave it in
CHAPTER V: The Treasure Hunter
I REMEMBER very well when the sailor came
to Highfield. It was the return of the prodigal
— a belated return. The hospitalities of the
parable did not await him. Old Thorndike
Madison was dead. And Charlie Madison, in pos-
session as sole heir, was not pleased to see a lost
brother land from a river boat after twenty years
The law presumes death after seven years, and
for twenty Dabney Madison had been counted out
of life — counted out by old Thorndike when he left
his estate to pass by operation of law to the surviving
son; and counted out by Charlie when he received
The imagination of every lad in the Hills was
fired by the romantic properties of this event. The
negroes carried every detail, and they would have
colored it to suit the fancy had not the thing hap-
pened in ample color.
The estate had gone to rack with Charlie drunk
from dawn until midnight. Old Clayborne and
Mariah kept the negro quarters, half a mile from
the house. Clayborne would put Charlie to bed and
then go home to his cabin. In the morning Mariah
would come to get his coffee. So Charlie lived after
The Treasure Hunter
old Thorndike, at ninety, had gone to the graveyard.
It was a witch's night when the thing happened —
rain and a high wind that wailed and whooped round
the pillars and chimneys of the house. The house
was set on a high bank above the river, where the
swift water, running like a flood, made a sharp bend.
It caught the full force of wind and rain. It was
old and the timbers creaked.
Charlie was drunk. He cried out when he saw
the lost brother and got unsteadily on his legs.
"You are not Dabney!" he said. "You are a
picture out of a storybook 1" And he laughed in a
sort of half terror, like a child before a homemade
ghost. "Look at your earrings I"
It was a good comment for a man in liquor; for if
ever a character stepped out of the pages of a pirate
tale, here it was.
Dabney had lifted the latch and entered without
warning. He had the big frame and the hawk nose
of his race. He was in sea-stained sailor clothes, his
face white as plaster, a red cloth wound tightly
round his head, huge half-moon rings in his ears;
and he carried a seaman's chest on his shoulder.
Old Clayborne told the story.
Dabney put down his chest carefully, as though
it had something precious in it. Then he spoke.
"Are you glad to see me, brother?"
Charlie was holding on to the table with both
hands, his eyes bleared, his mouth gaping.
"I don't see you," he quavered. Then he turned
his head, with a curious duck of the chin, toward the
old negro. "I don't see anything — do I?"
Dabney came over to the table then; he took up
the flask of liquor and a glass.
"Clabe," he said, "is this apple whisky ?"
I have heard the ancient negro tell the story a
thousand times. He gave a great shout of recog-
nition. Those words — those five word$ — settled it.
He used to sing this part in a long, nasal chant when
he reached it in his tale: "Marse Dabney I Oh,
my Lord! How many times ain't I heard 'im say
dem words — jis' lak dat: 'Clabe, is dis apple
whisky?' Dem outlandish clo's couldn't fool dis
nigger I I'd 'a' knowed Marse Dabney after dat if
he'd been 'parisoned in de garments ob Israel I"
But the old negro had Satan's time with Charlie,
who held on to the table and cursed.
"You're not Dabney!" he cried. "... I
know you! You're old Lafitte, the Pirate, who
helped General Jackson thrash the British at New
Orleans. Grandfather used to tell about you !"
He began to cry and blame his grandfather for so
vividly impressing the figure that it came up now in
his liquor to annoy him. Then he would get his
courage and shake a trembling fist across the table.
"You can't frighten me, Lafitte— curse you!
I've seen worse things than you over there. I've
seen the devil, with a spade, digging a grave; and a
horsefly, as big as a buzzard, perched on the high-
The Treasure Hunter
boy, looking at me and calling out to the devil : 'Dig
it deep ! We'll bury old Charlie deep' I"
Clayborne finally got him to realize that Dabney
was a figure in life, in spite of the chalk face under
the red headcloth.
And then Charlie went into a drunken mania of
resentment. Dabney was dead — or if he was not
dead he ought to be ; and he started to the highboy
for a dueling pistol. His fury and his drunken
curses filled the house. The place belonged to him !
He would not divide it
It was the devil's night. About daybreak the
ancient negro got Charlie into bed and the sailor in-
stalled in old Thorndike's room, with a fire and all
the attentions of a guest.
After that Charlie was strangely quiet. He suf-
fered the intrusion of the sailor with no word.
Dabney might have been always in the house for any
indication in Charlie's manner. There was peace;
but one was impressed that it was a sort of armistice.
Dabney went over the old estate pretty carefully,
but he did not interfere with Charlie's possession.
He laid no claim that anybody heard of. Charlie
seemed to watch him. He kept the drink in hand
and he grew silent.
There seemed no overt reason, old Clayborne
said, but presently Dabney began to act like a man
in fear. He made friends with the dog, a big old
bearhound. He got a fowling piece and set it up
by the head of his bed, and finally took the dog into
the room with him at night. He kept out of the
house by day.
One could see him, with a mariner's glass, striding
across the high fields above the river, or perched in
the fork of a tree. He wore the sailor clothes, and
the red cloth wound round nis head.
I am sure my uncle Abner saw him more than
once. I know of one time. He was riding home
from a sitting of the county justices. Dabney was
walking through the deep broom sedge in the high
field beyond the old house. Abner called and he
came down to the road. He had the mariner's
glass, the sailor clothes and the headcloth.
He was not pleased to see my uncle. He seemed
nervous, like a man under some restraint While
my uncle talked he would take three steps straight
ahead and then turn back. Abner marked it, with
"Dabney," he said, "why do you turn about like
The man stopped in his tracks; for a moment he
seemed in a sort of frenzied terror. Then he
"Habit— damme, Abner!"
"And where did you get a habit like that?" said
"In a ship," replied the man.
"What sort of ship?" said my uncle.
The sailor hesitated for a moment.
"Now, Abner," he cried finally, "what sort of
The Treasure Hunter
ships are they that sail the Caribbee and rendezvous
on the Dry Tortugas?" His voice took a strained,
wild note. "Have they spacious cabins, or does one
take three steps thus in the narrow pen of their
My uncle gathered his chin into his big fingers and
looked steadily at the man.
"Strange quarters, Dabney," he said, "for a son
of Thorndike Madison."
"Well, Abner!" cried the man, "what would you
have ? It was that or the plank. It's all very nice
to be a gentleman and the son of a gentleman under
the protection of Virginia; but off the Bermudas,
with the muzzle of a musket pressed into your back
and the sea boiling below you — what then?"
My uncle watched the man closely and with a
"A clean death," he said, "would be better than
God's vengeance to follow on one's heels."
The sailor swore a great oath.
"God's vengeance!" And he laughed. "I
should not care how that followed on my heels. It's
the vengeance of old Jules le Noir and the damned
Britisher, Barrett, following on a man's heels, that
puts ice in the blood. God's vengeance! Why,
Abner, a preacher could pray that off in a meeting-
house ; but can he pray the half-breed off ? Or the
The man seemed caught in a current of passion
that whirled him headlong into indiscretions from
which a saner mood would have steered him dear.
"The Spanish Main is not Virginia I" he cried
"One does not live the life of a gentleman on it
Loot and murder are not the pastimes of a gentle-
man. The Spanish Main is not safe. But is Vir-
ginia safe? Is any spot safe? Eh, Abner? Show
it to me if you know it I" And he plunged off into
the deep broom sedge.
So it came about that an evil Frenchman with a
cutlass in his teeth, and a vile old rum-soaked crea-
ture with a broken nose and a brace of pistols, got
entangled in the common fancy with Dabney's
Everybody in the Hills thought something was
going to happen; but the wild thing that did happen
came sooner than anybody thought.
One morning at sunrise a negro house boy ran in,
out of breath, to say that old Clayborne had gone by
at a gallop on his way to Randolph, the justice of
the peace, and shouted for my uncle to come to High-
Randolph had the nearer road; but Abner met
him at the Madison door and the two men went into
the house together.
Old Charlie was sober; but he was drinking raw
liquor and doing his best to get drunk. His face
was ghastly, and his hands shook so that he could
keep only a few spoonfuls of the white brandy in his
big tumbler. My uncle said that if ever the terror
The Treasure Hunter
of the damned was on a human creature in this
world it was on old Charlie.
It was some time before they could get at what
had happened. It was of no use to bother with
Charlie until the liquor should begin to steady him.
His loose underlip jerked and every faculty he could
muster was massed on the one labor of getting the
brandy to his mouth.
Old Mariah sat in the kitchen, with her apron
over her head, rocking on the four legs of a split-
bottomed chair. She was worse than useless.
My uncle and Randolph had got some things out
of Clayborne on the way. There had been nothing
to indicate the thing that night. Dabney had gone
into old Thorndike's room, as usual, with the dog.
Old Clayborne had put Charlie to bed drunk, snuffed
out the candles and departed to his cabin, half a
mile away. That was all old Clayborne could tell
of the night before. Perhaps the sailor seemed a
little more in fear than usual, and perhaps Charlie
was a little more in liquor; but he could not be sure
on those questions of degree. The sailor lately
seemed to be in constant fear and Charlie had got
back at his liquor with an increased and abandoned
What happened after that my uncle and Randolph
could see for themselves better than Clayborne could
Old Thorndike's room, like the other rooms of
the house, had a door that opened on a long covered
porch, facing the river. This door now stood open.
The ancient rusted lock plate, with its screws, was
hanging to the frame. There were no marks of
violence on the door. The sailor was gone. His
pillow and the bedclothes were soaked with blood.
All his clothes, including the red headcloth, were
lying neatly folded on the arm of a chair.
The sailor's chest stood open and empty. There
was a little sprinkling of blood drops from the bed
to the door and into the weeds outside, but no blood
anywhere else in the room. And from there, direct-
ly in a line to the river, the weeds and grass had been
trampled. The ground was hard and dry, and no
one could say how many persons had gone that way
from the house. The dog lay just inside the door
of the room, with his throat cut. It was the slash
of a knife with the edge of a razor, for the dog's
head was nearly severed from the neck.
It was noiseless, swift work — incredibly noiseless
and swift. Dabney had not wakened, for the fowl-
ing piece stood unmoved at the head of the bed."
When the door swung open somebody had caught
the dog's muzzle and slipped the knife across his
throat . . . and then the rest.
"It must have happened that way," Randolph
At any rate, the unwelcome sailor was gone. He
had arrived in an abundance of mystery and he had
departed in it, though where he went was clear
enough. The great river, swinging round the high
The Treasure Hunter
point of land, swallowed what it got. A lost
swimmer in that deadly water was sometimes found
miles below, months later— or, rather, a hideous,
unrecognizable human flotsam that the Hills ac-
cepted for the dead man.
The means, too, were not without the indication
Dabney had given in his wild talk to my uncle.
Besides, the negroes had seen a figure— or more than
one — at dusk, about an abandoned tobacco house
beyond the great meadow on the landward side of
It was a tumble-down old structure in a strip of
bush between the line of the meadow and the acres
of morass beyond it — called swamps in the South.
It was ghost land — haunted, the negroes said; and so
what moved there before the tragedy, behind the
great elm at the edge of the meadow, old Clay-
borne had seen only at a distance, with no wish to
spy on it.
Was it the inevitable irony of chance that Dabney
scouted the river with his glass while the thing he
feared came in through the swamps behind him?
By the time my uncle and Randolph had got these
evidences assembled the liquor had steadied Charlie.
At first he pretended to know nothing at all about
the affair. He had not wakened, and had heard
nothing until the cries of old Mariah filled the house
Randolph said he had never seen my uncle so pro-
foundly puzzled; he sat down in old Charlie's room,
silent, with his keen, strong-featured face as immov-
able as wood. But the justice saw light in a crevice
of the mystery and he drove directly at it, with no
"Charlie," he said, "you were not pleased to see
Dabney turn up I"
The drunken creature did not lie.
"No; I didn't want to see him."
"Because I thought he was dead."
"Because you did not wish to divide your father's
estate with him — wasn't that it?"
"Well, it was all mine — wasn't it — if Dabney was
The justice went on:
"You tried to shoot Dabney on the night he ar-
"I don't know," said Charlie. "I was drunk.
The man was in terror; but he kept his head —
that was clear as light.
"Dabney knew he was in danger here, didn't he?"
"Yes; he did," said Charlie.
"And he was in fear?"
"Yes," said Charlie — "damnably in fear I"
"Of you I" cried the justice with a sudden, aggres-
"Me?" Old Charlie looked strangely at the
man. "Why, no— not me I"
, "Of what, then?" said Randolph.
The Treasure Hunter
Old Charlie wavered ; he got another measure of
the brandy in him.
"Well," he said, "it was enough to be afraid of.
Look what it did to him!"
Randolph got up, then, and stood over against
the man across the table.
"You Madisons are all big men. Now listen to
me! It required force to break that door in, and
yet there is no mark on the door; that means some-
body broke it in with the pressure of his shoulder,
softly. And there is another thing, Charlie, that
you have got to face : Dabney was killed in his bed
while asleep. The dog in the room did not make
a sound. Why?"
The face of the drunken man took on a strange,
"That's so, Randolph," he said; "and it's strange
—it's damned strange!"
"Not so very strange," replied the justice.
"Why not?" said Charlie.
"Because the dog knew the man who did that
work in your father's room !"
And again, with menace and vigor, Randolph
drove at the shaken drunkard :
"Where's th« knife Dabney was killed with?"
Then, against all belief, against all expectation in
the men, old Charlie fumbled in a drawer beside
him and laid a knife on the table.
Randolph gasped at the unbelievable success of
his driven query, and my uncle rose and joined him.
They looked closely at the knife. It was the
common butcher knife of the countryside, made by a
smith from a worn-out file and to be found in any
kitchen ; but it was ground to the point, and whetted
to the hair-shearing edge of a razor.
"Look on the handle I" said Charlie.
They looked. And there, burned in the wood
crudely, like the imitative undertaking of a child, was
a skull and crossbones.
"Where did you get this knife?" said my uncle.
"It was sticking here in my table, in my room,
beside my bed, when I woke up." He indicated
with his finger nail the narrow hole in the mahogany
board where the point of the knife had been forced
down. "And this was under it."
He stooped again to the drawer and put a sheet
of paper on the table before the astonished men. It
was a page of foolscap, with words printed in blood
by the point of the knife : "Chest empty I Put thou-
sand in gold — elm — meadow. Or the same to
And there was the puncture in the center of the
sheet where the point of the knife had gone through.
My uncle laid it on the table, over the narrow hole
in the mahogany board, and pressed it down with the
knife. The point fitted into the paper and the
There was blood on the knife ; and the gruesome
thing, thus reset, very nearly threw old Charlie back
into the panic of terror out of which the brandy had
The Treasure Hunter
helped him. His fingers twitched, and he kept
puffing out his loose underlip like a child laboring
to hold back his emotions.
He went at the brandy bottle. And the tale he
finally got out was the wildest lie anybody ever put
forward in his own defense — if it was a lie. That
was the point to judge. And this was Randolph's
estimate at the time.
Charlie said that, to cap all of Dabney's strange
acts, about a week before this night he asked for a
thousand dollars. Charlie told him to go to hell.
He said Dabney did not resent either the refusal or
the harsh words of it. He simply sat still and began
to take on an appearance of fear that sent old
Charlie, tumbler in hand, straight to his liquor bot-
tle. Dabney kept coming in every day or two to
beg for money ; so Charlie got drunk to escape the
"Where was I to get a thousand dollars?" he
queried in the tale to my uncle and Randolph.
He said the day before the tragedy was the worst.
Dabney got at him in terror for the money. He
must have it to save his life, he went on desperately,
Charlie said. And then he cried 1
Charlie spat violently at the recollection. There
was something gruesome, helpless and awful in the
memory — in the way Dabney quaked; the tears, and
the jingle of the earrings ; all the appearance of the
man so set to a part of brutal courage — and this
shattering fear 1 The flapping of the big half-moon
earrings against the man's white quivering jowls was
the worst, Charlie said.
Randolph thought old Charlie colored the thing
if he was lying about it. If it was the truth the delu-
sions of liquor would account for these overdrawn
impressions. At any rate, the justice promptly
spoke out what he thought.
"Charlie," he said, "you're trying to stage a sea
yarn by the penny writers. It won't do I"
The man reflected, looking Randolph in the face.
"Why, yes," he said; "you're right — that's what
it sounds like. But it isn't that. It's the truth."
And he turned to my uncle. "You know it's the
Randolph said that just here, at this point in the
affair, all the established landmarks of common
sense and sane credibility were suddenly jumbled up.
What my uncle answered was :
"I think it's all true."
Charlie took a big linen handkerchief out of his
pocket and wiped his face. Then he said simply,
quite simply, like a child:
One could doubt everything else, Randolph said;
but not this. The man was in fear, beyond question.
"I've got it all figured out," Charlie continued.
"They were after Dabney for something they
thought he had in the chest. They offered to
take a thousand dollars for their share and let him
off. That's why he was so crazy to raise the money.
The Treasure Hunter
When they found the chest empty they thought I had
the thing, or knew where Dabney had concealed it;
and now they are after me!"
Old Charlie stopped again and wiped his face.
"I don't want to die, Abner," he added, "like
Dabney — in the bed. What shall I do?"
"There is only one thing to do," replied my uncle.
"Put the money by the elm in the meadow."
\"But, Abner," replied the man, "where would I
get a thousand dollars, as I said to Dabney?"
"I will lend it to you," replied my uncle.
"But, Abner," said Charlie, "you haven't got a
thousand dollars in gold in your pocket."
"No," replied my uncle; "but if you will give me
a lien on the land I will undertake to pay the money.
The estate is in ruin, but it's worth double that sum."
And Randolph said that,. among the other strange,
mad, ridiculous things of that memorable, extraor-
dinary day, he wrote a deed of trust on the Madison
lands to secure Charlie's note to my uncle for a
So great virtue was there in my uncle's word, and
such power had he to inspire the faith of men, that
he rode away, leaving old Charlie at peace and con-
fident that he had escaped from peril — whether, as
Randolph wondered, it was the peril of the pirate
assassins in the great swamp or the gibbet of Vir-
Two hundred yards from the house, where the
atrip of bush, skirting the meadow, touched the road,
my uncle got down from his horse and tied the bridle
rein to a sapling.
"What now, Abner?" cried Randolph, like a man
swept along in a current of crazy happenings.
"I am going in to arrange about the payment of
the money," replied my uncle.
The justice swore a great oath. If my uncle was
setting out to interview desperate assassins — as his
acts indicated — alone and unarmed, it was the ex-
treme of foolhardy peril. Did he think murderers
would parley with him and let him come away to tell
it and to lead in a posse ? It was a thing beyond all
sane belief !
And it is evidence of the blood in Randolph that in
this conviction, with the inevitable end of the venture
before his face, he got down and went in with my
The path lay along a sort of dike, thrown up in
some ancient time against the swamp. Now along
the sides it was grown with great reeds, water beecK
and the common bush of wet lands.
They came to the old tobacco hou»e noiselessly on
the damp path. The tumble-down door had been
set in place.
My uncle did not pause for any consideration of
finesse or safety. He went straight ahead to the
door and flung it open. It was rotten and insecurely
set, and it fell with a clatter into the abandoned
The Treasure Hunter
At the sound a big, gaunt figure, asleep on the
floor, sprang up.
In the dim light Randolph looked about for a
weapon — a piece of the broken door would do.
But my uncle was undisturbed.
"Dabney," he said, "I came to arrange about the
money. My agent, Mr. Gray, in Memphis, will
hand it to you. There will be nothing to sign.' 9
Randolph said he cried out, because he was as-
"Dabney Madison, by the living God ! I thought
you were dead I "
My uncle turned about.
"How could you think that, Randolph?" he said.
"You yourself pointed out how the dog was killed
by somebody who knew him; and you must have
seen that there was no blood on the floor where the
dog lay — and consequently that the dog was killed
in the bed to furnish blood for the pretended mur-
"But the money, Abner!" cried Randolph. "Why
do you pay Dabney Madison this money?"
"Because it is his share of his father's estate,"
replied my uncle.
"So you were after that I" cried Randolph; "the
half of your father's estate. Damme, man, you
took a lot of hell-turns on the road to that ! Why
didn't you sue in the courts ? Your right was legal."
"Because a suit at law would have brought out his
past," replied my uncle.
The man roused thus abruptly out of sleep had got
now some measure of control.
"Randolph," he said, "no law of God or man runs
on the sea. The trade of the sea south of the Ber-
mudas is no business for a gentleman or to be told
in the land of his father's honor. Abner knew
where I'd been I"
"Yes," replied my uncle. "When I saw your
bleached face ; when I saw your cropped head under
the pirate cloth ; when I saw you take three steps in
your nervous walk, and turn — I knew."
"That I had been in the Spanish Main?" said
"That you had been in the penitentiary!" said
CHAPTER VI: The House of the Dead
WE were on our way to the Smallwood
place — Abner and I. It was early in the
morning and I thought we were the first
on the road; but at the Three Forks, where the
Lost Creek turnpike trails down from the moun-
tains, a horse had turned in before us.
It was a morning out of Paradise, crisp and
bright. The spider-webs glistened on the fence
rails. The timber cracked. The ragweed was
dusted with silver. The sun was moving upward
from behind the world. I could have whistled out
of sheer joy in being alive on this October morning
and the horse under me danced; but Abner rode
looking down his nose. He was always silent when
he had this trip to make. And he had a reason
The pastureland that we were going on to did
not belong to us. It had been owned by the sheriff,
Asbury Smallwood. In those days the sheriff col-
lected the county taxes. One night the sheriff's
house had been entered, burned over his head and
a large sum of the county revenues carried off. No
one ever found a trace of those who had done this
deed. The sheriff was ruined. He had given up
his lands and moved to a neighboring county. His
bondsmen had been forced to meet the loss. My
father had been one of them; but it was not the loss
to my father that bothered Abner.
"The thing does not hurt you, Rufus," he said;
"but it cripples Elnathan. Stone and it breaks Adam
Stone was a grazier with heavy debts and Great-
house was a little farmer. I remember how my
father chaffed Abner when he paid his portion of
11 The Lord gave,' " he said, " 'and the Lord
hath taken awayV— eh, Abner?"
"But, Rufus," replied Abner, "did the Lord take?
We must be sure of that. There are others who
It was clear what Abner meant. If the Lord
took he would be resigned to it; but if another took
he would follow with a weapon in his hand and re-
cover what had been taken. Abner's God was an
exacting Overlord and His requisitions were to be
met with equanimity; but He did not go halves with
thieves and He issued no letters of marque.
When the sheriff failed Abner had put cattle on
the land in an effort to make what he could for the
bondsmen. It was good grazing land, but it was
watered by springs, and we had to watch them. A
beef steer does not grow fat without plenty of water.
We went every week to give the cattle salt and to
watch the springs.
The House of the Dead Man
As we rode I presently noticed that Abner was
looking down at the horsetrack. And then I saw
what I had not noticed before, that there were three
horsetracks in the road — two going our way and
one returning — but only one of the tracks was fresh.
Finally Abner pulled up his big chestnut. We were
passing the old burned house. The crumbled
foundations and the blasted trees stood at the end
of a lane. There had once been a gate before the
house at the end of this lane, but it was now nailed
up. The horse going before us had entered this
lane for a few steps, then turned back into the road.
Abner did not speak. He looked at the track
for a moment and then rode on. Presently we came
to the bars leading from the road into the pasture.
The horse had stopped here and its rider had got
out of the saddle and let down the bars. One could
see where the horse had gone through and the foot-
prints of the rider were visible in the soft clay. The
old horsetrack also went in and came out at these
Abner examined the man's footprints with what
I thought was an excess of interest. Travelers were
always going through one's land ; and, provided they
closed the bars behind them, what did it matter?
Abner seemed concerned about this traveler how-
ever. When we had entered the field he sat for
some time in the saddle ; and then, instead of going
to the hills where the springs were, he rode up the
valley toward a piece of woods. There was a little
rivulet threading this valley and he watched it as
Finally, just before the rivulet entered the woods,
he stopped and got down out of his saddle. When
I came up he was looking at a track on the edge of
the little stream. It was the footprint of a man,
still muddy where the water had run into it. Abner
stood on the bank beside the rivulet, and for a good
while I could not imagine what he was waiting for.
Then, as he watched the track, I understood. He
was waiting for the muddy water to clear so he
could see the imprint of the man's foot.
"Uncle Abner," I said, "what do you care about
who goes through the field?"
"Ordinarily I do not care," he said, "if the man
lays up the fence behind him ; but there is something
out of the ordinary about this thing. The man who
crossed there on foot is the same man who came in
on the horse. The footprints here and at the bars
show the same plate on the bootheel. He rode a
horse that had been here before today, because it
remembered the lane and tried to turn in there.
Moreover, the man did not wish to be seen, because
he came early, hid the horse and went on foot back
toward the burned house."
"How do you know that he had hidden the horse,
For answer he beckoned to me and we rode into
the woods. The leaves were damp and the horses
made no sound. In a few moments Abner stopped
The House of the Dead Man
and pointed through the beech trees, and I saw a bay
horse tied to a sapling. The horse stood with his
legs wide apart and his head down.
"The horse is asleep," said Abner; "it has been
ridden all night. We must find the rider."
I was now alive with interest. The old story of
the robbery floated before me in romantic colors.
What innocent person would come here by stealth,
ride his horse all night and then hide it in the woods?
Moreover, as Abner said, this horse had been to
the sheriff's house before today; and it had been
there before the house was burned — because it had
started to enter the old lane and had been turned
back by its rider. We were all familiar with such
striking examples of memory in horses. A horse,
having once gone over a road and entered at a cer-
tain gate, will follow that road on a second trip and
again enter that gate.
Then I remembered the old horsetrack that had
preceded this one, and the solution of this thing ap-
peared before me. The story had gone about that
two men had robbed the sheriff and these evidences
tallied with that story. Two men had ridden into
that pasture; that one track was older was because
one of the men had gone to tell the other to meet
him here — had ridden back — and the other had fol-
lowed. The horse of the first robber was ^doubt-
less concealed deeper in the wood. And why had
they returned? That was clear enough — they had
concealed the booty until now and had just come back
The thrill of adventure tingled in my blood. We
were on the trail of the robbers and they could not
easily escape us. The one who had ridden this
horse could not be far away, since his track in the
brook was muddy when we found it; but why had
he crossed the brook in the direction of the burned
house? The way over the hill toward the house
was wholly in the open, — clean sod, not even a tree.
The man on foot could not have been out of sight
of us when we rode across the brook and round the
brow of the hill — but he was out of sight. We sat
there in our saddles and searched the land, lying
smooth and open before us. There was the burned
house below, bare as my hand, and the meadows, all
open to the eye. A rabbit could not have hidden—
where was the rider of that worn-out, sleeping
Abner sat there looking down at this clean, open
land. A man could not vanish into the air ; he could
not hide in a wisp of blue grass; he could not cross
three hundred acres of open country while his track
in a running brook remained muddy. He could have
reached the brow of the hill and perhaps gone down
to the house, but he could not have passed the mead-
ows and the pasture field beyond without wings on
The morning was on its way ; the air was like lotus.
The sun, still out of sight, was beginning to gild the
The House of the Dead Man
hilltops. I looked up; away on the knob at the
summit of the hill there was an old graveyard —
that was a curious custom, to put our dead on the
highest point of land. A patch of sunlight lay on
this village of the dead — and as I looked a thing
caught my eye.
I turned in the saddle.
"I saw something flash up there, Uncle Abner."
"Flash," he said— "like a weapon?"
"Glitter," I said. And I caught up the bridle-
But Abner put his hand on the bk.
"Quietly, Martin," he said. "We will ride slowly
round the hill, as though we were looking for the
cattle, and go up behind that knob; there is a ridge
there and we shall not be seen until we come out on
the crest of the hill beside the graveyard."
We rode idly away, stopping now and then, like
persons at their leisure. But I was afire with in-
terest. All the way to the crest of the hill the
blood skipped in my veins. The horses made no
sound on the carpet of green sod. And when we
came out suddenly beside the ancient graveyard I
fully expected to see there a brace of robbers — like
some picture in a story; — with bloody cloths around
their heads and pistols in their belts; or two be-
whiskered pirates before a heap of pieces-of-eight.
On the tick of the clock I was disillusioned, how-
ever. A man who had been kneeling by a grave
rose. I knew him in the twinkling of an eye. He
was the sheriff and in the twinkling of an eye I knew
why he was there; and I was covered with confus-
ion. His father was buried in this old graveyard.
It was a land where men concealed their feelings as
one conceals the practice of a crime ; and one would
have stolen his neighbor's goods before he would
have intruded upon the secrecy of his emotions.
I pulled up my horse and would have turned back,
pretending that I had not seen him, for I was
ashamed; but Abner rode on and presently I fol-
lowed in amazement. If Abner had cursed his
horse or warbled a ribald song I could not have been
more astonished. I was ashamed for myself and
I was ashamed for Abner. How could he ride in
on a man who had just got up from beside his
father's grave? My mind flashed back over Ab-
ner's life to find a precedent for this conspicuous in-
considerate act; but there was nothing like it in all
the history of the man.
When the sheriff saw us he wiped his face with his
sleeve and went white as a sheet. And under my
own shirt I felt and suffered with the man. I should
have gone white like that if one had caught me thus.
And in my throat I choked with bitterness at Abner.
Had his heart tilted and every generous instinct been
emptied out of it? Then I thought he meant to
turn the thing with some word that would cover the
man's confusion and save his feelings inviolate ; but
he shocked me out of that.
"Smallwood," said Abner, "you have come back!"
The House of the Dead Man
The man blinked as though the sun were in his
eyes. He had not yet regained the mastery of him-
"Yes," he said.
"And why do you come?" said Abner.
A flush of scarlet spread over the man's white
"And do you ask me that?" he cried. "It is the
tomb of my father!"
"Your father," said Abner, "was an upright man.
He lived in* the fear of God. I respect his tomb."
"I thank you, Abner," replied the man. "I honor
my father's grave."
"You honor it late," said Abner.
"Late I" echoed Smallwood.
"Late," said Abner. s
The man spread out his hands with a gesture of
"You mean that my misfortune has dishonored
"No," said Abner, "that is not what I mean ; by
a misfortune no man can be dishonored — neither his
father nor his father's father."
"What is it you mean, then?" said the man
"Smallwood," said Abner, "is it not before you;
where you in your ownership allowed the fence
around this grave to rot I have rebuilt it, and where
you allowed the weeds to grow up I have cut them
It was the truth. Abner had put up a fence and
had cleaned the graveyard. Only the myrtle and
cinquefoil covered it. I thought the sheriff would
be ashamed at that, but his face brightened.
"It is disaster, Abner, that brings a man back to
his duties to the dead. In prosperity we forget, but
in poverty we remember."
"The Master," replied Abner, "was not very
much concerned about the dead; nor am I. The
dead are in God's keeping I It is our duties to the
living that should move us. Do you remember,
Smallwood, the story of the young man who wished
to go and bury his father?"
"I do," said Smallwood, "and I have always held
him in honor for it."
"And so, too, the Master would have held him,
but for one thing."
"What thing?" said Smallwood.
"That the story was an excuse," replied Abner.
I saw the light go out of the man's face and his
lips tremble; and then he said what I was afraid he
"Abner," he said, "if you are determined to gouge
this thing out of me, why here it is : I cannot bear
to live in this community any longer. I am ashamed
to see those upon whom I have brought misfortune
— Elnathan Stone, and your brother Rufus, and
Adam Greathouse. I have made up my mind to
leave the country forever, but I wanted to see the
place where my father was buried before I went, be-
cause I shall never see it again. You don't under-
The House of the Dead Man
stand how a man can feel like that; but I tell you,
when a man is in trouble he will remember his
father's roof if he is living, and his father's grave
if he is dead."
I was so mortified before this confession that
Abner's heartless manner had forced out of the man
that I reached over and caught my uncle by the
sleeve. My horse stood by Abner's chestnut, and
I hoped that he would yield to my importunity and
ride on ; but he turned in his saddle and looked first
at me and then down upon the sheriff,
"Martin," he said, "thinks we ought to leave you
to your filial devotions,"
"It is a credit to the child's heart," replied the
man, "and a rebuke to you, Abner. It is a pity that
age robs us of charity."
. Abner put his hands on the pommel of his saddle
and regarded the sheriff.
"I have read St. Paul's epistle on charity," he
said, "and, after long reflection, I am persuaded
that there exists a greater thing than charity — a
thing of more value to the human family. Like
charity, it rejoiceth not in iniquity, but it does not
bear all things or believe all things, or endure all
things; and, unlike charity, it seeketh its own. . . .
Do you know what thing I mean, Small wood? I
will tell you. It is Justice."
"Abner," replied the man, "I am in no humor to
hear a sermon."
"Those who need a sermon," said Abner, "are
rarely in the humor to hear it."
"Abner," cried the man, "you annoy me ! Will
you ride on?"
"Presently," replied Abner; "when we have
talked together a little further. You are about to
leave the country. I shall perhaps never see you
again and I would have your opinion upon a certain
"Well," said the man, "what is it?"
"It is this," said Abner. "You appear to enter-
tain great filial respect, and I would ask you a ques-
tion touching that regard : What ought to be done
with a man who would use a weapon against his
"He ought to be hanged," said Smallwood.
"And would it change the case," said Abner, "if
the father held something which the son had in-
trusted to him and would not give it up because it
belonged to another, and the son, to take it, should
come against his father with an iron in his hand?"
The sheriff's face became a land of doubt, of sus-
picion, of uncertainty and, I thought, of fear.
"Abner," cried the man, "I do not understand;
will you explain it?"
"I will explain this thing which you do not un-
derstand," replied Abner, "when you have explained
a thing which I do not understand. Why was it
that you came here last night and again this morn-
ing? That was two visits to your father's grave
The House of the Dead Man
within six hours. I do not understand why you
should make two trips — and one upon the heels of
For a moment the man did not reply; then he
"How do you know that I was here last night?
Did you see me come or did another see and tell
"I did not see you," replied Abner, "nor did any
one tell me that you came ; but I know it in spite of
"And how do you know it?" said Smallwood.
"I will tell you," said Abner. "On the road this
morning I observed two horse-tracks leading this
way; they both turned in at the same crossroads and
they both came to this place. One was fresh, the
other was some hours old — it is easy to tell that on
a clay road. I compared those two tracks and the
third returning track, and presently I saw that they
had been made by the same horse."
Abner stopped and pointed down toward the
"Moreover," he continued, "your horse, hidden
among those trees, is worn out and asleep. Now
you live only some twenty miles away — that journey
this morning would not have so fatigued your horse
that he would sleep on his feet ; but to make two trips
i — to go all night — to travel sixty miles — would
The sheriff's head did not move, but I saw his
eyes glance down. The glance did not escape Abner
and he went on.
"I saw the crowbar in the grass there some time
ago," he said; "but what has the crowbar to do with
your two trips?"
I, too, saw now the iron bar. It was the thing
that had glittered in the sun.
The man threw back his shoulders; he lifted his
face and stood up. There came upon him the pose
and expression of one who steps out at last desper-
ately into the open.
"Yes," he said, "I was here last night. It was
my horse that made those tracks in the road and it
is my horse that is hidden in the woods now. And
that is my crowbar in the grass. . • • And do you
want to know why I made those two trips, and why
I brought that crowbar, and why I hid my horse?
♦ . . Well, I'll tell you, since there is no shame in
you and no decent feeling, and you are determined
to have it. . . . You can't understand, Abner, be-
cause you have a heart of stone; but I tell you I
wanted to see my father's grave before I left the
country forever. I was ashamed to meet the people
over here and so I came in the night. When I got
here I saw that the heavy slab over my father's
grave had settled down and was wedged in against
the coping. I tried to straighten it up, but I could
not. . . . Well, what would you have done, Abner
— gone away and left your father's tomb a ruin?
. . . No matter what you would have done! I
The House of the Dead Man
went back twenty miles and got that crowbar and
came again to lift and straighten the stone over my
father's grave before I left it. . . . And now, will
you ride on and leave me to finish my work and go?"
"Smallwood," Abner said presently, "how do you
know that your house was robbed before it was
burned? Might it not be that the county revenues
were burned with the house?"
"I will tell you how I know that, Abner," replied
the man. "The revenues of the county were all in
my deerskin saddle-pockets, under my pillow; when
I awoke in the night the house was dark and filled
with smoke. I jumped up, seized my clothes,
which were on a chair by the bed, and ran down-
stairs; but, first, I felt under the pillow for my sad-
dle-pockets — and they were gone."
"But, Smallwood," said Abner, "how can you be
certain that the money was stolen out of your sad-
dle-pockets if you did not find them?"
"I did find them," replied the sheriff; "I went
back into the house and got the saddle-pockets and
brought them out — and they were empty."
"That was a brave thing to do, Smallwood," said
Abner — "to go back into a burning house filled with
smoke and dark. You could have had only a mo-
"You speak the truth, Abner," replied the sheriff.
"I had only a moment — the house was a pot of
smoke. But the money was in my care, Abner.
There was my duty — and what is a man's life against
I saw Abner's back straighten and I heard his feet
grind on the iron of his stirrups.
"And now, Smallwood," he said, and his voice was
like the menace of a weapon, "will you tell me how
it was possible for you to go into a house that was
dark and filled with smoke, and thus quickly — in a
moment — find those empty saddle pockets, unless
you knew exactly where they were?"
I saw that Abner's question had impaled the man,
as one pierces a fly through with a needle; and, like
a fly, the man in his confusion fluttered.
"Smallwdod," said Abner, "you are a thief and a
hypocrite and a liar ! And, like all liars, you have
destroyed yourself ! You not only stole this money
but you tried to make your father an accomplice in
that robbery. To conceal it, you hid it in this dead
man's house. And, behold, the dead man has held
his house against you! When you came here last
night to carry away the money you found that the
slab over your father's grave had fallen and wedged
itself in against the limestone coping, and you could
not lift it; and so you went back for that crowbar.
. . . But who knows, you thief, what influence,
though he be dead, a just man has with God! I
came in time to help your father hold his house— -
and against his son, with a weapon in his hand!"
I saw the man cringe and writhe and shiver, as
though he were unable to get out of his tracks; then
The House of the Dead Man
the power came to him, and he vaulted over the
fence and ran. He ran in fear down the hill and
across the brook and into the wood; and a moment
later he came out with his tired horse at a gallop.
Abner looked down from the hilltop on the flying
thief, but he made no move to follow.
"Let him go," he said, "for his father's sake.
We owe the dead man that much."
Then he got down from his horse, thrust the
.crowbar under the slab over the grave and lifted it
Beneath it were the sheriff's deerskin saddle*
pockets and the stolen money 1
CHAPTER VII: A Twilight Adventure
IT was a strange scene that we approached.
Before a crossroad leading into a grove of
beech trees, a man sat on his horse with a rifle
across his saddle. He did not speak until we were
before him in the road, and then his words were
"Ride on!" he said.
But my Uncle Abner did not ride on. He pulled
up his big chestnut and looked calmly at the man.
"You speak like one having authority, 91 he said.
The man answered with an oath.
"Ride on, or you'll get into trouble !"
"I am accustomed to trouble," replied my uncie
with great composure; "you must give me a better
"I'll give you hell!" growled the man. "Ride
Abner's eyes traveled over the speaker with a
"It is not yours to give," he said, "although pos-
sibly to receive. Are the roads of Virginia held by
"This one is," replied the man.
"I think not," replied my Uncle Abner, and,
touching his horse with his heel, he turned into the
A Twilight Adventure
The man seized his weapon, and I heard the
hammer click under his thumb. Abner must have
heard it, too, but he did not turn his broad back.
He only called to me in his usual matter-of-fact
"Go on, Martin; I will overtake you."
The man brought his gun up to his middle, but
he did not shoot. He was like all those who under-
take to command obedience without having first
determined precisely what they will do if their
orders are disregarded. He was prepared to
threaten with desperate words, but not to support
that threat with a desperate act, and he hung there
uncertain, cursing under his breath.
I would have gone on as my uncle had told me
to do, but now the man came to a decision.
"No, by God!" he said; "if he goes in, you go
And he seized my bridle and turned my horse
into the crossroad; then he followed.
There is a long twilight in these hills. The sun
departs, but the day remains. A sort of weird,
dim, elfin day, that dawns at sunset, and envelops
and possesses the world. The land is full of light,
but it is the light of no heavenly sun. It is a light
equal everywhere, as though the earth strove to
illumine itself, and succeeded with that labor.
The stars are not yet out. Now and then a pale
moon rides in the sky, but it has no power, and the
light is not from it. The wind is usually gone; the
air is soft, and the fragrance of the fields fills it like
a perfume. The noises of the day and of the crea-
tures that go about by day cease, and the noises of
the night and of the creatures that haunt the night
begin. The bat swoops and circles in the maddest
action, but without a sound. The eye sees him, but
the ear hears nothing. The whippoorwill begins
his plaintive cry, and one hears, but does not see.
It is a world that we do not understand, for we
are creatures of the sun, and we are fearful lest we
come upon things at work here, of which we have
no experience, and that may be able to justify
themselves against our reason. And so a man falls
into silence when he travels in this twilight, and he
looks and listens with his senses out on guard.
It was an old wagon-road that we entered, with
the grass growing between the ruts. The horses
traveled without a sound until we began to enter a
grove of ancient beech trees; then the dead leaves
cracked and rustled. Abner did not look behind
him, and so he did not know that I came. He knew
that some one followed, but he doubtless took it for
the sentinel in the road. And I did not speak.
The man with the cocked gun rode grimly behind
me. I did not know whither we went or to what
end. We might be shot down from behind a tree
or murdered in our saddles. It was not a land where
men took desperate measures upon a triviality. And
I knew that Abner rode into something that little
A Twilight Adventure
men, lacking courage, would gladly have stayed
Presently my ear caught a sound, or, rather, a
confused mingling of sounds, as of men digging in
the earth. It was faint, and some distance beyond
us in the heart of the beech woods, but as we trav-
eled the sound increased and I. could distinguish
the strokes of the mattock, and the thrust of the
shovel and the clatter of the earth on the dry leaves.
These sounds seemed at first to be before us, and
then, a little later, off on our right-hand. And finally,
through the gray boles of the beech trees in the
lowland, I saw two men at work digging a pit.
They had just begun their work, for there was lit-
tle earth thrown out. But there was a great heap
of leaves that they had cleared away, and heavy
cakes of the baked crust that the mattocks had
pried up. The length of the pit lay at right angles
to the road, and the men were working with their
backs toward us. They were in their shirts and
trousers, and the heavy mottled shadows thrown by
the beech limbs hovered on their backs and shoul-
ders like a flock of night birds. The earth was
baked and hard; the mattock rang on it, and among
the noises of their work they did not hear us.
I saw Abner look off at this strange labor, his
head half turned, but he did not stop and we went
on. The old wagon-road made a turn into the low
ground. I heard the sound of horses, and a moment
later we came upon a dozen men.
I shall not easily forget that scene. The beech
trees had been deadened by some settler who had
chopped a ring around them, and they stood gaunt
with a few tattered leaves, letting the weird twi-
light in. Some of the men stood about, others sat
on the fallen trees, and others in their saddles. But
upon every man of that grim company there was
the air and aspect of one who waits for something
to be finished.
An old man with a heavy iron-gray beard smoked
a pipe, puffing out great mouthfuls of smoke with
a sort of deliberate energy; another whittled a
stick, cutting a bull with horns, and shaping his
work with the nicest care; and still another traced
letters on the pommel of his saddle with his thumb-
A little to one side a great pronged beech thrust
out a gray arm, and under it two men sat on their
horses, their elbows strapped to their bodies and
their mouths gagged with a saddle-cloth. And be-
hind them a man in his saddle was working with a
colt halter, unraveling the twine that bound the
headpiece and seeking thereby to get a greater
length of rope.
This was the scene when I caught it first. But a
moment later, when my uncle rode into it, the thing
burst into furious life. Men sprang up, caught his
horse by the bit and covered him with weapons.
Some one called for the sentinel who rode behind
me, and he galloped up. For a moment there was
A Twilight Adventure
confusion. Then the big man who had smoked with
such deliberation called out my uncle's name, others
repeated it, and the panic was gone. But a ring
of stern, determined faces were around him and
before his horse, and with the passing of the flash
of action there passed no whit of the grim purpose
upon which these men were set.
My uncle looked about him.
"Lemuel Arnold/' he said; "Nicholas Vance,
Hiram Ward, you here!''
As my uncle named these men I knew them. They
were cattle grazers. Ward was the big man with
the pipe. The men with them were their renters
Their lands lay nearest to the mountains. The
geographical position made for feudal customs and
a certain independence of action. They were on the
border, they were accustomed to say, and had to
take care of themselves. And it ought to be writ-
ten that they did take care of themselves with cour-
age and decision, and on occasion they also took care
Their fathers had pushed the frontier of the do-
minion northward and westward and had held the
land. They had fought the savage single-handed
and desperately, by his own methods and with his
own weapons. Ruthless and merciless, eye for eye
and tooth for tooth, they returned what they were
They did not send to Virginia for militia when
the savage came; they fought him at their doors,
and followed him through the forest, and took their
toll of death. They were hardier than he was, and
their hands were heavier and bloodier, until the old
men in the tribes of the Ohio Valley forbade these
raids because they cost too much, and turned the
war parties south into Kentucky.
Certain historians have written severely of these
men and their ruthless methods, and prattled of
humane warfare ; but they wrote nursing their soft
spines in the security of a civilization which these
men's hands had builded, and their words are hol-
"Abner," said Ward, "let me speak plainly. We
have got an account to settle with a couple of cattle
thieves and we are not going to be interfered with.
Cattle stealing and murder have got to stop in these
hills. We've had enough of it."
"Well," replied my uncle, "I am the last man
in Virginia to interfere with that. We have all had
enough of it, and we are all determined that it must
cease. But how do you propose to end it?"
"With a rope," said Ward.
"It is a good way," replied Abner, "when it is
done the right way."
"What do you mean by the right way?" said
"I mean," answered my uncle, "that we have all
agreed to a way and we ought to stick to our agree-
ment. Now, I want to help you to put down cattle
A Twilight Adventure
stealing and murder, but I want also to keep my
"And how have you given your word?"
"In the same way that you have given yours,"
said Abner, "and as every man here has given his.
Our fathers found out that they could not manage
the assassin and the thief when every man under-
took to act for himself, so they got together and
agreed upon a certain way to do these things. Now,
we have indorsed what they agreed to, and prom-
ised to obey it, and I for one would like to keep
The big man's face was puzzled. Now it cleared.
"Hell!" he said. "You mean the law?"
"Call it what you like," replied Abner; "it is
merely the agreement of everybody to do certain
things in a certain way."
The man made a decisive gesture with a jerk of
"Well," he said, "we're going to do this thing
our own way."
My uncle's face became thoughtful.
"Then," he said, "you will injure some innocent
"You mean these two blacklegs?"
And Ward indicated the prisoners with a gesture
of his thumb.
My uncle lifted his face and looked at the two
men some distance away beneath the great beech,
as though he had but now observed them.
"I was not thinking of them," he answered. "I
was thinking that if men like you and Lemuel Ar-
nold and Nicholas Vance violate the law, lesser men
will follow your example, and as you justify your
act for security, they will justify theirs for revenge
and plunder. And so the law will go to pieces and
a lot of weak and innocent people who depend upon
it for security will be left unprotected."
These were words that I have remembered, be-
cause they put the danger of lynch law in a light I
had not thought of. But I saw that they would
not move these determined men. Their blood was
up and they received them coldly.
"Abner," said Ward, "we are not going to argue
this thing with you. There are times when men
have to take the law into their own hands. We live
here at the foot of the mountains. Our cattle are
stolen and run across the border into Maryland.
We are tired of it and we intend to stop it.
"Our lives and our property are menaced by a
set of reckless desperate devils that we have deter-
mined to hunt down and hang to the first tree in
Bight. We did not send for you. You pushed ypur
way in here ; and now, if you are afraid of breaking
the law, you can ride on, because we are going to
break it — if to hang a pair of murderous devils is
to break it."
I was astonished at my uncle's decision.
"Well," he said, "if the law must be broken, I
will stay and help you break it!"
A Twilight Adventure
"Very well," replied Ward; "but don't get a
wrong notion in your head, Abner. If you choose
to stay, you put yourself on a footing with every-
"And that is precisely what I want to do," replied
Abner, "but as matters stand now, every man here
has an advantage over me."
"What advantage, Abner?" said Ward.
"The advantage," answered my uncle, "that he
has heard all the evidence against your prisoners
and is convinced that they are guilty."
"If that is all the advantage, Abner," replied
Ward, "you shall not be denied it. There has been
so much cattle stealing here of late that our people
living on the border finally got together and deter-
mined to stop every drove going up into the moun-
tains that wasn't accompanied by somebody that we
knew was all right. This afternoon one of my men
reported a little bunch of about a hundred steers
on the road, and I stopped it. These two men were
driving the cattle. I inquired if the cattle belonged
to them and they replied that they were not the own-
ers, but that they had been hired to take the drove
over into Maryland. I did not know the men, and
as they met my inquiries with oaths and impreca-
tions, I was suspicious of them. I demanded the
name of the owner who had hired them to drive the
cattle. They said it was none of my damned busi-
ness and went on. I raised the county. We over-
took them, turned their cattle into a field, and
brought them back until we could find out who the
drove belonged to. On the road we met Bowers."
He turned and indicated the man who was work-
ing with the rope halter.
I knew the man. He was a cattle shipper, some-
what involved in debt, but who managed to buy and
sell and somehow keep his head above water.
"He told us the truth. Yesterday evening he had
gone over on the Stone-Coal to look at Daniel Coop-
4 man's cattle. He had heard that some grazer from
your county, Abner, was on the way up to buy the
cattle for stockers. He wanted to get in ahead of
your man, so he left home that evening and got to
Coopman's place about sundown. He took a short
cut on foot over the hill, and when he came out he
saw a man on the opposite ridge where the road
runs, ride away. The man seemed to have been
sitting on his horse looking down into the little val-
ley where Coopman's house stands. Bowers went
down to the house, but Coopman was not there.
The door was open, and Bowers says the house
looked as though Coopman had just gone out of it
and might come back any moment. There was no
one about, because Coopman's wife had gone on a
visit to her daughter, over the mountains, and the
olcj man was alone.
"Bowers thought Coopman was out showing the
cattle to the man whom he had just seen ride off,
so he went out to the pasture field to look for him.
He could not find him and he could not find the
A Twilight Adventure
cattle. He came back to the house to wait until
Coopman should come in. He sat down on the
porch. As he sat there he noticed that the porch
had been scrubbed and was still wet. He looked at
it and saw that it had been scrubbed only at one
place before the door. This seemed to him a little
peculiar, and he wondered why Coopman had scrub-
bed his porch only in one place. He got up and
as he went toward the door he saw that the jamb
of the door was splintered at a point about half-
way up. He examined this splintered place and
presently discovered that it was a bullet hole.
"This alarmed him, and he went out into the
yard. There he saw a wagon track leading away
from the house toward the road. In the weeds he
found Coopman' s watch. He picked it up and put
it into his pocket. It was a big silver watch, with
Coopman's name on it, and attached to it was a
buckskin string. He followed the track to the gate,
where it entered the road. He discovered then that
the cattle had also passed through this gate. It was
now night. Bowers went back, got Coopman's sad-
dle horse out of the stable, rode him home, and
followed the track of the cattle this morning, but
he saw no trace of the drove until we met him."
"What did Shifflet and Twiggs say to this story?"
"They did not hear it," answered Ward; "Bowers
did not talk before them. He rode aside with us
when we met him."
"Did Shifflet and Twiggs know Bowers ?" said
"I don't know/' replied Ward; "their talk was
so foul when we stopped the drove that we had to
tie their mouths up."
"Is that all?" said Abner.
Ward swore a great oath.
"No!" he said. "Do you think we would hang
men on that? From what Bowers told us, we
thought Shifflet and Twiggs had killed Daniel Coop*
man and driven off his cattle ; but we wanted to be
certain of it, so we set out to discover what they
had done with Coopman's body after they had
killed him and what they had done with the wagon.
We followed the trail of the drove down to the
Valley River. No wagon had crossed, but on the
other side we found that a wagon and a drove of
cattle had turned out of the road and gone along
the basin of the river for about a mile through the
woods. And there in a bend of the river we found
where these devils had camped.
"There had been a great fire of logs very near
to the river, but none of the ashes of this fire re-
mained. From a circular space some twelve feet in
diameter the ashes had all been shoveled off, the
marks of the shovel being distinct. In the center of
the place where this fire had burned the ground had
been scraped clean, but near the edges there were
some traces of cinders and the ground wis black*
ened. In the river at this point, just opposite the
A Twilight Adventure
remains of the fire, was a natural washout or hole.
We made a raft of logs, cut a pole with a fork on
the end and dragged the river. We found most of
the wagon iron, all showing the effect of fire. Then
we fastened a tin bucket to a pole and fished the
washout We brought up cinders, buttons, buckles
and pieces of bone."
"That settled it, and we came back here to swing
the devils up."
My uncle had listened very carefully, and now he
"What did the man pay Twiggs and Shifflet?"
said my uncle. "Did they tell you that when you
stopped the drove?"
"Now that," answered Ward, "was another
piece of damning evidence. When we searched the
men we found a pocketbook on Shifflet with a hun-
dred and fifteen dollars and some odd cents. It was
Daniel Coopman's pocketbook, because there was
an old tax receipt in it that had slipped down be-
tween the leather and the lining.
"We asked Shifflet where he got it, and he said
that the fifteen dollars and the change was his own
money and that the hundred had been paid to him
by the man who had hired them to drive the cattle.
He explained his possession of the pocketbook by
saying that this man had the money in it, and when
he went to pay them he said that they might just
as well take it, too."
"Who was this man?" said Abner.
"They will not tell who he was."
"Now, Abner," cried Ward, "why not, indeed!
Because there never was any such man. The story
is a lie out of the whole cloth. Those two devils
are guilty as hell. The proof is all dead against
"Well," replied my uncle, "what circumstantial
evidence proves, depends a good deal on how you
get started. It is a somewhat dangerous road to
the truth, because all the sign-boards have a curious
trick of pointing in the direction that you are going.
Now^ a man will never realize this unless he turns
around and starts back, then he will see, to his
amazement that the signboards have also turned.
But as long as his face is set one certain way, it
is of no use to talk to him, he won't listen to you;
and if he sees you going the other way, he will call
you a fool "
"There is only one way in this case," said Ward.
"There are always two ways in every case," re-
plied Abner, "that the suspected person is either
guilty or innocent. You have started upon the the-
ory that Shifflet and Twiggs are guilty. Now, sup-
pose you had started the other way, what then?"
"Well," said Ward, "what then?"
"This, then," continued Abner. "You stop Shiff-
let and Twiggs on the road with Daniel Coopman's
cattle, and they tell you that a man has hired them
A Twilight Adventure
to drive this drove into Maryland. You believe
that and start out to find the man. You find Bow-
Bowers went deadly white.
"For God's sake, Abner I" he said.
But my uncle was merciless and he drove in the
There was no answer, but the faces of the men
about my uncle turned toward the man whose trem-
bling hands fingered the rope that he was prepar-
ing for another.
"But the things we found, Abner?" said Ward.
"What do they prove," continued my uncle, "now
that the signboards are turned? That somebody
killed Daniel Coopman and drove off his cattle, and
afterward destroyed the body and the wagon in
which it was hauled away. . . . But who did that?
• . . The men who were driving Daniel Coopman's
cattle, or the man who was riding Daniel Coopman's
horse, and carrying Daniel Coopman's watch in his
Ward's face was a study in expression.
"Ah!" cried Abner. "Remember that the sign-
boards have turned about. And what do they point
to if we read them on the way we are going now?
The man who killed Coopman was afraid to be
found with the cattle, so he hired Twiggs and Shiff-
let to drive them into Maryland for him and ioV
lows on another road."
"But his story, Abner?" said Ward.
"And what of it?" replied my uncle. "He is
taken and he must explain how he comes by the
horse that he rides, and the watch that he carries,
and he must find the criminal. Well, he tells you
a tale to fit the facts that you will find when you
go back to look, and he gives you Shifflet and Twiggs
I never saw a man in more mortal terror than
Jacob Bowers. He sat in his saddle like a man
"My God!! 1 he said, and again he repeated it,
And he had cause for that terror on him. My
uncle was stern and ruthless. The pendulum had
swung the other way, and the lawless monster that
Bowers had allied was now turning on himself. He
saw it and his joints were unhinged with fear.
A voice crashed out of the ring of desperate men,
uttering the changed opinion.
"By God!" it cried, "weVe got the right man
And one caught the rope out of Bowers' hand.
But my Uncle Abner rode in on them.
"Are you sure about that?" he said.
"Sure !" they echoed. "You have shown it your-
"No," replied my uncle, "I have not shown it. I
have shown merely whither circumstantial evidence
leads us when we go hotfoot after a theory. Bowers
A Twilight Adventure
says that there was a man on the hill above Daniel
Coopman's house, and this man will know that he
did not kill Daniel Coopman and that his story is
They laughed in my uncle's face.
"Do you believe that there was any such person?"
My uncle seemed to increase in stature, and his
voice became big and dominant.
"I do," he said, "because I am the man!"
They had got their lesson, and we rode out with
Shifflet and Twiggs to a legal trial.
CHAPTER VIII: The Age of Miracles
THE girl was standing apart from the crowd
in the great avenue of poplars that led
up to the house. She seemed embarrassed
and uncertain what to do, a thing of April emerging
Abner and Randolph marked her as they entered
along the gravel road.
They had left their horses at the gate, but she had
brought hers inside, as though after some habit un-
consciously upon her.
But half-way to the house she had remembered
and got down. And she stood now against the
horse's shoulder. It was a black hunter, big and
old, but age marred no beauty of his lines. He was
like a horse of ebony, enchanted out of the earth
by some Arabian magic, but not yet by that magic
awakened into life.
The girl wore a long, dark riding-skirt, after the
fashion of the time, and a coat of hunter's pink.
Her dark hair was in a great wrist-thick plait. Her
eyes, too, were big and dark, and her body firm and
lithe from the out-of-doors.
"Ah I" cried Randolph, making his characteristic
gesture, "Prospero has been piping in this grove?
Here is a daughter of the immortal morning I We
The Age of Miracles
grow old, Abncr, and it is youth that the gods love."
My uncle, his hands behind him, his eyes on the
gravel road, looked up at the bewitching picture.
"Poor child," he said; "the gods that love her
must be gods of the valleys and not gods of the
"Ruth amid the alien corn ! Is it a better figure,
Abner? Well, she has a finer inheritance than
these lands; she has youth!"
"She ought to have both," replied my uncle*
"It was sheer robbery to take her inheritance."
"It was a proceeding at law," replied the Justice.
"It was the law that did the thing, and we can not
hold the law in disrespect."
"But the man who uses the law to accomplish a
wrong, we can so hold," said Abner. "He is an
outlaw, as the highwayman and the pirate are."
He extended his arm toward the great house sit-
ting at the end of the avenue.
"In spite of the sanction of the law, I hold this
dead man for a robber. And I would have wrested
these lands from him, if I could. But your law*
Randolph, stood before him."
"Well," replied the Justice, "he takes no gain
from it; he lies yonder waiting for the grave."
"But his brother takes," said Abner, "and this
The Justice, elegant in the costume of the time*
turned his ebony stick in his fingers.
"One should forgive the dead," he commented in
a facetious note; v 'it is a mandate of the Scripture."
"I am not concerned about the dead," replied
Abner. "The dead are in God's hands. It is the
living who concern me."
"Then," cried the Justice, "you should forgive the
brother who takes."
"And I shall forgive him," replied Abner, "when
he returns what he has taken."
"Returns what he has taken!" Randolph laughed.
"Why, Abner, the devil could not filch a coin out
of the clutches of old Benton Wolf."
"The devil," said my uncle, "is not an authority
that I depend on."
"A miracle of Heaven, then," said the Justice.
"But, alas, it is not the age of miracles."
"Perhaps," replied Abner, his voice descending
into a deeper tone, "but I am not so certain."
They had come now to where the girl stood, her
back against the black shoulder of the horse. The
morning air moved the yellow leaves about her feet.
She darted out to meet them, her face aglow.
"Damme !" cried Randolph. "William of Avon
knew only witches of the second order! How do
you do, Julia? I have hardly seen you since you
were no taller than my stick, and told me that your
name was 'Pete-George,' and that you were a cir-
cus-horse, and offered to do tricks for me."
A shadow crossed the girl's face.
"I remember," she said, "it was up there on the
The Age of Miracles
"Egad!" cried Randolph, embarrassed. "And so
it was !"
He kissed the tips of the girl's fingers and the
shadow in her face fled.
For the man's heart was good, and he had the
manner of a gentleman. But it was Abner that she
turned to in her dilemma.
"I forgot," she said, "and almost rode into the
house. Do you think I could leave the horse here?
He will stand if I drop the rein."
Then she went on to make her explanation. She
wanted to see the old house that had been so long
her home. This was the only opportunity, to-day,
when all the countryside came to the dead man's
burial. She thought she might come, too, although
her motive was no tribute of respect.
She put her hand through Abner's arm and he
looked down upon her, grave and troubled.
"My child," he said, "leave the horse where he
stands and come with me, for my motive, also, is no
tribute of respect; and you go with a better right
than I do."
"I suppose," the girl hesitated, "that one ought to
respect the dead, but this man — these men — 1 can
"Nor can I," replied my uncle. "If I do not re-
spect a man when he is living, I shall not pretend to
when he is dead. One does not make a claim upon
my honor by going out of life."
They went up the avenue among the yellow poplar
leaves and the ragweed and fennel springing up
along the unkept gravel.
It was a crisp and glorious morning. The frost
lay on the rail fence. The spider-webs stretched
here and there across the high grasses of the mead-
ows in intricate and bewildering lace-work. The sun
was clear and bright, but it carried no oppressive
heat as it drew on in its course toward noon.
The countryside had gathered to see Adam Wolf
buried. It was a company of tenants, the idle and
worthless mostly, drawn by curiosity. For in life
the two old men who had seized upon this property
by virtue of a defective acknowledgment to a deed,
permitted no invasion of their boundary.
Everywhere the lands were posted; no urchin
fished and no schoolboy hunted. The green perch,
fattened in the deep creek that threaded the rich
bottom lands, no man disturbed. But the quail, the
pheasant, the robin and the meadow-lark, old Adam
pursued with his fowling-piece. He tramped about
with it at all seasons. One would have believed
that all the birds of heaven had done the creature
some unending harm and in revenge he had declared
a war. And so the accident by which he met his
death was a jeopardy of the old man's habits, and
to be looked for when one lived with a fowling-piece
in one's hands and grew careless in its use.
The two men lived alone and thus all sorts of
mystery sprang up around them, elaborated by the
negro fancy and gaining in grim detail at every
The Age of Miracles
story-teller's hand. It had the charm and thrilling
interest of an adventure, then, for the countryside
to get this entry.
The brothers lived in striking contrast. Adam
was violent, and his cries and curses, his hard and
brutal manner were the terror of the negro who
passed at night that way, or the urchin overtaken
by darkness on his road home. But Benton got
about his affairs in silence, with a certain humility
of manner, and a mild concern for the opinion of his
fellows. Still, somehow, the negro and the urchin:
held him in a greater terror. Perhaps because he
had got his coffin made and kept it in his house, to-
gether with his clothes for burial. It seemed un-
canny thus to prepare against his dissolution and to
bargain for the outfit, with anxiety to have his shil-
And yet, with this gruesome furniture at hand, the
old man, it would seem, was in no contemplation of
his death. He spoke sometimes with a marked
savor and an unctuous kneading of the hands of that
time when he should own the land, for he was the
younger and by rule should have the expectancy of
There was a crowd about the door and filling the
hall inside, a crowd that elbowed and jostled, taken
with a quivering interest, and there to feed its maw
of curiosity with every item.
The girl wished to remain on the portico, where
she could see the ancient garden and the orchard and
all the paths and byways that had been her wonder-
land of youth, but Abner asked her to go in.
Randolph turned away, but my uncle and the girl
remained some time by the coffin. The rim of the
dead man's forehead and his jaw were riddled with
bird-shot, but his eyes and an area of his face below
them, where the thin nose came down and with its
lines and furrows made up the main identity of fea-
tures, were not disfigured. And these preserved the
hard stamp of his violent nature, untouched by the
accident that had dispossessed him of his life.
He lay in the burial clothes and the coffin that
Benton Wolf had provided for himself, all except
the gloves upon his hands. These the old man had
forgot. And now when he came to prepare his
brother for a public burial, for no other had touched
the man, he must needs take what he could find
about the house, a pair of old, knit gloves with every
rent and moth-hole carefully darned, as though the
man had sat down there with pains to give his
brother the best appearance that he could.
This little touch affected the girl to tears, so
strange is a woman's heart. "Poor thing !" she said.
And for this triviality she would forget the injury
that the dead man and his brother had done to her,
the loss they had inflicted, and her long distress.
She took a closer hold upon Abner's arm, and
dabbed her eyes with a tiny kerchief.
"I am sorry for him," she said, "for the living
brother. It is so pathetic."
The Age of Miracles
And she indicated the old, coarse gloves so
crudely darned and patched together.
But my uncle looked down at her, strangely, and
with a cold, inexorable face.
"My child," he said "there is a curious virtue in
this thing that moves you. Perhaps it will also move
the man whose handiwork it is. Let us go up and
Then he called the Justice.
"Randolph," he said, "come with us."
The Justice turned about. "Where do you go?'*
"Why, sir," Abner answered, "this child is weep-
ing at the sight of the dead man's gloves, and I
thought, perhaps, that old Benton might weep at
them too, and in the softened mood return what he
The Justice looked upon Abner as upon one gone
"And be sorry for his sins ! And pluck out his
eye and give it to you for a bauble ! Why, Abner,
where is your common sense. This thing would
take a miracle of God."
My uncle was undisturbed.
"Well," he said, "come with me, Randolph, and
help me to perform that miracle."
He went out into the hall, and up the wide old
stairway, with the girl, in tears, upon his arm. And
the Justice followed, like one who goes upon a pat-
ent and ridiculous fool's errand.
They came into an upper chamber, where a great
bulk of a man sat in a padded chair looking down
upon his avenue of trees. He looked with satisfac-
tion. He turned his head about when the three
came in and then his eyes widened in among the
folds of fat.
"Abner and Mr. Randolph and Miss Julia Clay-
borne I" he gurgled. "You come to do honor to the
"No, Wolf," replied my uncle, "we come to do
justice to the living."
The room was big, and empty but for chairs and
an open secretary of some English make. The pic-
tures on the wall had been turned about as though
from a lack of interest in the tenant. But there hung
in a frame above the secretary — with its sheets of
foolscap, its iron ink-pot and quill pens — a map in
detail, and the written deed for the estate that these
men had taken in their lawsuit. It was not the skill
of any painter that gave pleasure to this mountain
of a man; not fields or groves imagined or copied
for their charm, but the fields and groves that he
possessed and mastered. And he would be re-
minded at his ease of them and of no other.
The old man's eyelids fluttered an instant as with
some indecision, then he replied, "It was kind to
have this thought of me. I have been long neg-
lected. A litde justice of recognition, even now,
does much to soften the sorrow at my brother's
death." Randolph caught at his jaw to keep in the
The Age of Miracles
laughter. And the huge old man, his head crouched
into his billowy shoulders, his little reptilian eye
shining like a crum of glass, went on with his speech.
"I am the greater moved," he said, "because you
have been aloof and distant with me. You, Abner,
have not visited my house, nor you, Randolph, al-
though you live at no great distance. It is not thus
that one gentleman should treat another. And es-
pecially when I and my dead brother, Adam, were
from distant parts and came among you without a
friend to take us by the hand and bring us to your
He sighed and put the fingers of his hands to-
"Ah, Abner," he went on, "it was a cruel negli-
gence, and one from which I and my brother Adam
suffered. You, who have a hand and a word at
every turning, can feel no longing for this human
comfort. But to the stranger, alone, and without
the land of his nativity, it is a bitter lack."
He indicated the chairs about him.
"I beg you to be seated, gentlemen and Miss Clay-
borne. And overlook that I do not rise. I am
shaken at Adam's death."
Randolph remained planted on his feet, his face
now under control. But Abner put the child into
a chair and stood behind it, as though he were some
close and masterful familiar.
"Wolf," he said, "I am glad that your heart is
"My heart — softened !" cried the man. "Why,
iAbner, I have the tenderest heart of any of God's
creatures. I can not endure to kill a sparrow. My
brother Adam was not like that. He would be for
hunting the wild creatures to their death with fire-
arms. But I took no pleasure in it."
"Well," said Randolph, "the creatures of the air
got their revenge of him. It was a foolish accident
to die by."
"Randolph," replied the man, "it was the very end
and extreme of carelessness. To look into a fowl-
ing-piece, a finger on the hammer, a left hand hold-
ing the barrel half-way up, to see if it was empty.
It was a foolish and simple habit of my brother, and
one that I abhorred and begged him to forego, again
and again, when I have seen him do it.
"But he had no fear of any firearms, as though by
use and habit he had got their spirit tamed — as
trainers, I am told, grow careless of wild beasts,
and jugglers of the fangs and poison of their rep-
tiles. He was growing old and would forget if they
He spoke to Randolph, but he looked at Julia
Clayborne and Abner behind her chair.
The girl sat straight and composed, in silence.
The body of my uncle was to her a great protecting
presence. He stood with his broad shoulders above
her, his hands on the back of the chair, his face
lifted. And he was big and dominant, as painters
are accustomed to draw Michael in Satan's wars.
The Age of Miracles
The pose held the old man's eye, and he moved in
his chair; then he went on, speaking to the girl.
"It was kind of you, Abner, and you, Randolph,
to come in to see me in my distress, but it was fine
and noble in Miss Julia Clayborne. Men will un-
derstand the justice of the law and by what right it
gives and takes. But a child will hardly understand
that. It would be in nature for Miss Clayborne in
her youth, to hold the issue of this lawsuit against
me and my brother Adam, to feel that we had
wronged her; had by some unfairness taken what
her father bequeathed to her at his death, and al-
ways regarded as his own. A child would not see
how the title had never vested, as our judges do.
How possession is one thing, and the title in fee sim-
ple another and distinct. And so I am touched by
Abner spoke then.
"Wolf," he said, "I am glad to find you in this
mood, for now Randolph can write his deed, with
consideration of love and affection instead of the
real one I came with."
The old man's beady eye glimmered and slipped
"I do not understand, Abner. What deed?"
"The one Randolph came to write," replied my
"But, Abner," interrupted the Justice, "I did not
come to write a deed." And he looked at my uncle
"Oh, yes," returned Abner, "that is precisely what
you came to do."
He indicated the open secretary with his hand.
"And the grantor, as it happens, has got every-
thing ready for you. Here are foolscap and quill
pens and ink. And here, exhibited for your conven-
ience, is a map of the lands with all the metes and
bounds. And here," he pointed to the wall, "in a
frame, as though it were a work of art with charm,
is the court's deed. Sit down, Randolph, and
write." And such virtue is there in a dominant com-
mand, that the Justice sat down before the secretary
and began to select a goose quill.
Then he realized the absurdity of the direction
and turned about.
"What do you mean, Abner?" he cried.
"I mean precisely what I say," replied my uncle.
"I want you to write a deed."
"But what sort of deed," cried the astonished
Justice, "and by what grantor, and to whom, and for
"You will draw a conveyance," replied Abner,
"in form, with covenants of general warranty for
the manor and lands set out in the deed before you
and given in the plat. The grantor will be Benton
Wolf, esquire, and the grantee Julia Clayborne, in-
fant, and mark you, Randolph, the consideration
will be love and affection, with a dollar added for
The old man was amazed. His head, bedded
The Age of Miracles
into his huge shoulders, swung about; his pudgy fea-
tures worked; his expression and his manner
changed; his reptilian eyes hardened; he puSed with
his breath in gusts.
"Not so fast, my fine gentleman!" he gurgled*
"There will be no such deed."
"Go on, Randolph," said my uncle, as though
there had been no interruption, "let us get this busi-
"But, Abner," returned the Justice, "it is fool
work, the grantor will not sign."
"He will sign," said my uncle, "when you have
finished, and seal and acknowledge — go on!"
"But, Abner, Abner!" the amazed Justice pro-
"Randolph," cried my uncle, "will you write, and
leave this thing to me?"
And such authority was in the man to impose his
will that the bewildered Justice spread out his sheet
of foolscap, dipped his quill into the ink and began
to draw the instrument, in form and of the parties,
as my uncle said. And while he wrote, Abner
turned back to the gross old man.
"Wolf," he said, "must I persuade you to sign
"Abner," cried the man, "do you take me for a
He had got his unwieldy body up and defiant in
"I do not," replied my uncle, "and therefore I
think that you will sign."
The obese old man spat violently on the floor, his
face a horror of great folds.
"Sign!" he sputtered. "Fool, idiot, madman!
Why should I sign away my lands?"
"There are many reasons," replied Abner calmly.
"The property is not yours. You got it by a legal
trick, the judge who heard you was bound by the
technicalities of language. But you are old, Wolf,
and the next Judge will go behind the record. He
will be hard to face. He has expressed Himself on
these affairs. 'If the widow and the orphan cry to
me, I will surely hear their cry.' Sinister words,
Wolf, for one who comes with a case like yours into
the court of Final Equity."
"Abner," cried the old man, "begone with your
little sermons !"
My uncle's big fingers tightened on the bade of
"Then, Wolf," he said, "if this thing does not
move you, let me urge the esteem of men and this
child's sorrow, and our high regard."
The old man's jaw chattered and he snapped his
"I would not give that for the things you name,"
he cried, and he set off a tiny measure on his index-
finger with the thumb.
"Why, sir, my whim, idle and ridiculous, is a
greater power to move me than this drivel."
The Age of Miracles
Abner did not move, but his voice took on depth
"Woh," he said, u a whim is sometimes a great
lever to move a man. Now, I am taken with a whim
myself. I have a fancy, Wolf, that your brother
Adam ought to go out of the world barehanded as
he came into it."
The old man twisted his great head, as though he
would get Abner wholly within the sweep of his rep-
"What?" he gurgled. "What is that?"
"Why, this," replied my uncle. "I have a whim
— -'idle and ridiculous,' did you say, Wolf? Well,
then, idle and ridiculous, if you like, that your
brother ought not to be buried in his gloves."
Abner looked hard at the man and, although he
did not move, the threat and menace of his presence
seemed somehow to advance him. And the effect
upon the huge old man was like some work of sor-
cery. The whole mountain of him began to quiver
and the folds of his face seemed spread over with
thin oil. He sat piled up in the chair and the oily
sweat gathered and thickened on him. His jaw
jerked and fell into a baggy gaping and the great
expanse of him worked as with an ague.
Finally, out of the pudgy, undulating mass, a voice
issued, thin and shaken.
"Abner," it said, "has any other man this fancy?"
"No," replied my uncle, "but I hold it, Wolf, at
"And, Abner," his thin voice trebled, "you will let
my brother be buried as he is?"
"If you sign!" said my uncle.
The man reeked and grew wet in the terror on
him, and one thought that his billowy body would
never be again at peace. "Randolph," he quav-
ered, "bring me the deed."
Outside, the girl sobbed in Abner's arms. She
asked for no explanation. She wished to believe
her fortune a miracle of God, forever — to the end
of all things. But Randolph turned on my uncle
when she was gone.
"Abner 1 Abner!" he cried. "Why in the name
of the Eternal was the old creature so shaken at the
"Because he saw the hangman behind them," re-
plied my uncle. "Did you notice how the rim of
the dead man's face was riddled by the bird-shot and
the center of it clean? How could that happen,
"It was a curious accident of gun-fire," replied the
"It was no accident at all," said Abner. "That
area of the man's face is clean because it was pro-
tected. Because the dead man put up his hands to
cover his face when he saw that his brother was
about to shoot him.
"The backs of old Adam's hands, hidden by the
gloves, will be riddled with bird-shot like the rim of
CHAPTER IX: The Tenth Commandment
THE afternoon sun was hot, and when the
drove began to descend the long wooded
hill we could hardly keep them out of the
timber. We were bringing in our stock cattle. We
had been on the road since daybreak and the cattle
were tired. Abner was behind the drove and I was
riding the line of the wood. The mare under me
knew as much about driving cattle as I did, and be-
tween us we managed to keep the steers in the road;
but finally a bullock broke away and plunged down
into the deep wood. Abner called to me to turn all
the cattle into the grove on the upper side of the
road and let them rest in the shade while we got the
runaway steer out of the underbrush: I turned the
drove in among the open oak trees, left my mare to
watch them and went on foot down through the un-
derbrush. The long hill descending to the river was
unfenced wood grown up with thickets. I was per-
haps three hundred yards below the road when I
lost sight of the steer, and got up on a stump to look.
I did not see the steer, but in a thicket beyond me
I saw a thing that caught my eye. The bushes had
been cut out, the leaves trampled, and there was a
dogwood fork driven into the ground. About fifty
feet away there was a steep bank and below it a
horse path ran through the wood.
The thing savored of mystery. All round was a
dense tangle of thicket, and here, hidden at a point
commanding the horse path, was this cleared spot
with the leaves trampled and the forked limb of a
dogwood driven into the ground. I was so absorbed
that I did not know that Abner had ridden down
the hill behind me until I turned and saw him sit-
ting there on his great chestnut gelding looking over
the dense bushes into the thicket.
He got down out of his saddle, parted the bushes
carefully and entered the thicket. There was a hol-
low log lying beyond the dogwood fork. Abner put
his hand into the log and drew out a gun. It was a
bright, new, one-barreled fowling-piece! — a muzzle-
loader, for there were no breech-loaders in that
country then. Abner turned the gun about and
looked it over carefully. The gun was evidently
loaded, because I could see the cap shining under the
hammer. Abner opened the brass plate on the
stock, but it contained only a bit of new tow and the
implement, like a corkscrew, which fitted to the ram-
rod and held the tow when one wished to clean the
gun. It was at this moment that I caught sight of
the steer moving in the bushes and I leaped down
and ran to head him off, leaving Abner standing
with the gun in his hands.
When I got the steer out and across the road into
the drove Abner had come up out of the wood. He
was in the saddle, his clenched hand lay on the pom-
The Tenth Commandment
I was afraid to ask Abner questions when he
looked like that, but my curiosity overcame me.
"What did you do with the gun, Uncle Abner?"
"I put it back where it was," he said.
"Do you know who the owner is?"
"I do not know who he is," replied Abner without
looking in my direction, "but I know what he is —
he is a coward!"
The afternoon drew on. The sun moved
towards the far-off chain of mountains. Silence lay
on the world. Only the tiny creatures of the air
moved with the hum of a distant spinner, and the
companies of yellow butterflies swarmed on the
road. The cattle rested in the shade of the oak
trees and we waited. Abner's chestnut stood like a
horse of bronze and I dozed in the saddle.
Shadows were entering the world through the
gaps and passes of the mountains when I heard a
horse. I stood up in my stirrups and looked.
The horse was traveling the path running through
the wood below us. I could see the rider through
the trees. He was a grazer whose lands lay west-
ward beyond the wood. In the deep, utter silence
I could hear the creak of his saddle-leather. Then
suddenly as he rode there was the roar of a gun,
and a cloud of powder smoke blotted him out of
In that portentous instant of time I realized the
meaning of the things that I had seen there in the
thicket. It was an ambush to kill this man! The
foiic in the ground was to hold the gun-barrel so the
assassin could not miss his mark.
And with this understanding came an appalling
sense of my Uncle Abner's negligence. He must
have known all this when he stood there in the
thicket, and when he knew it, why had he left that
gun there ? Why had he put it back into its hiding-
place? Why had he gone his way thus unconcern-
edly and left this assassin to accomplish his mur-
der? Moreover, this man riding there through the
wood was a man whom Abner knew. His house
was the very house at which Abner expected to stop
this night. We were on our way there 1
It was in one of those vast spaces of time that a
second sometimes stretches over that I put these
things togethei and jerked my head toward Abner,
but he sat there without the tremor of a muscle.
The next second I saw the frightened horse plung-
ing in the path and I looked to see its saddle empty,
or the rider reeling with the blood creeping through
his coat, or some ghastly thing that clutched and
swayed. But I did not see it. The rider sat firmly
in his saddle, pulled up the horse, and, looking idly
about him, rode on. He believed the gun had been
fired by some hunter shooting squirrels.
"Oh," I cried, "he missed!"
But Abner did not reply. He was standing in his
stirrups searching the wood.
"How could he miss, Uncle Abner," I said, "when
The Tenth Commandment
he was so near to the path and had that fork to rest
his gun-barrel in? Did you see him?"
It was some time before Abner answered, and then
his reply was to my final query.
"I did not see him," he said deliberately. "He
must have slipped away somehow through the
That was all he said, and for a good while he was
silent, drumming with his fingers on the pommel of
his saddle and looking out over the distant treetops.
The sun was touching the mountains before Ab-
ner began to move the drove. We got the cattle out
of the wood and started the line down the long hill.
The road forked at the bottom of the hill — one
branch of it, the main road, went on to the house of
the grazer with whom we had expected to spend the
night and the other turned off through the wood.
I was astonished when Abner turned the drove
into this other road, but I said nothing, for I pres-
ently understood the reason for this change of plans.
One could hardly accept the hospitality of a man
when he had negligently stood by to see him mur-
In half a mile the road came out into the open.
There was a big new house on a bit of rising land
and, below, fields and meadows. I did not know
the crossroad, but I knew this place.. The man, Dill-
worth, who lived here had been sometime the clerk
of the county court. He had got this land, it was
said, by taking advantage of a defective record, and
he had now a suit in chancery against the neighbor-
ing grazers for the land about him. He had built
this great new house, in pride boasting that it would
sit in the center of the estate that he would gain. I
had heard this talked about — this boasting, and how
one of the grazers had sworn before the courthouse
that he would kill Dillworth on the day that the de-
cree was entered. I knew in what esteem Abner
held this man and I wondered that he should choose
him to stay the night with.
When we first entered the house and while we ate
our supper Abner had very little to say, but after
that, when we had gone with the man out on to the
great porch that overlooked the country, Abner
changed — I think it was when he picked up the
county newspaper from the table. Something in
this paper seized on his attention and he examined it
with care. It was a court notice of the sale of lands
for delinquent taxes, but the paper had been torn
and only half of the article was there. Abner
called our host's attention to it.
"Dillworth," he said, "what lands are included in
"Are they not there?" replied the man.
"No," said Abner, "a portion of the newspaper
is gone. It is torn off at a description of the Jen-
kins' tract" — and he put his finger on the line and
showed the paper to the man — "what lands follow
"I do not remember the several tracts," Dill-
The Tenth Commandment
worth answered, "but you can easily get another
copy of the newspaper. Are you interested in these
"No," said Abner, "but I am interested in this
Then he laid the newspaper on the table and sat
down in a chair. And then it was that his silence
left him and he began to talk.
Abner looked out over the country.
"This is fine pasture land," he said.
Dillworth moved forward in his chair. He was
a big man with a bushy chestnut beard, little glim-
mering eyes and a huge body.
"Why, Abner," he said, "it is the very best land
that a beef steer ever cropped the grass on."
"It is a corner of the lands that Daniel Davisson
got in a grant from George the Third," Abner con-
tinued. "I don't know what service he rendered the
crown, but the pay was princely — a man would do
king's work for an estate like this."
"King's work he would do," said Dillworth, "or
hell's work. Why, Abner, the earth is rich for a
yard down. I saw old Hezekiah Davisson buried in
it, and the shovels full of earth that the negroes
threw on him were as black as their faces, and the
sod over that land is as clean as a woman's hair. I
was a lad then, but I promised myself that I would
one day possess these lands."
"It is a dangerous thing to covet the possession of
another," said Abner. "King David tried it and
he had to do— what did you call it, Dillworth? —
"And why not," replied Dillworth, "if you get
the things you want by it?"
"There are several reasons," said Abner, "and
one is that it requires a certain courage. Hell's work
is heavy work, Dillworth, and the weakling who
goes about it is apt to fail."
Dillworth laughed. "King David didn't fail, did
"He did not," replied Abner; "but David, the
son of Jesse, was not a coward."
"Well," said Dillworth, "I shall not fail either.
My hands are not trained to war like this, but they
are trained to lawsuits."
"You got this wedge of land on which your house
is built by a lawsuit, did you not?" said Abner.
"I did," replied Dillworth; "but if men do not
exercise ordinary care they must suffer for that neg-
"Well," said Abner, "the little farmer who lived
here on this wedge suffered enough for his. When
you dispossessed him he hanged himself in his stable
with a halter."
"Abner," cried Dillworth, "I have heard enough
about that. I did not take the man's life. I took
what the law gave me. If a man will buy land and
not look up the title it is his own fault."
"He bought at a judicial sale," said Abner, "and
he believed the court would not sell him a defective
The Tenth Commandment
title. He was an honest man, and he thought the
world was honest."
"He thought wrong," said Dillworth.
"He did," said Abner.
"Well," cried Dillworth, "am I to blame because
there is a fool the less? Will the people never learn
that the court does not warrant the title to the lands
that it sells in a suit in chancery? The man who
buys before the courthouse door buys a pig in a
poke, and it is not the court's fault if the poke is
empty. The judge could not look up the title to
every tract of land that comes into his court, nor
could the title to every tract be judicially determined
in every suit that involves it. To do that, every
suit over land would have to be a suit to determine
title and every claimant would have to be a party."
"What you say may be the truth," said Abner,
"but the people do not always know it."
"They could know it if they would inquire," an-
swered Dillworth; "why did not this man go before
"Well," replied Abner, "he has gone before a
greater Judge." Abner leaned back in his chair and
his fingers rapped on the table.
"The law is not always justice," he said. "Is it
not the law that a man may buy a tract of land and
pay down the price in gold and enter into the pos-
session of it, and yet, if by inadvertence the justice
of the peace omits to write certain words into the
acknowledgment of the deed, the purchaser takes no
title and may be dispossessed of his lands?"
"That is the law," said Dillworth emphatically;
"it is the very point in my suit against these grazers.
Squire Randolph could not find his copy of Mayo's
Guide on the day that the deeds were drawn and so
he wrote from memory."
Abner was silent for a moment.
"It is the law," he said, "but is it justice, Dill-
"Abner," replied Dillworth, "how shall we know
what justice is unless the law defines it?"
"I think every man knows what it is," said Abner.
"And shall every man set up a standard of his
own," said Dillworth, "and disregard the standard
that the law sets up? That would be the end of
"It would be the beginning of justice," said Ab-
'ner, "if every man followed the standard that God
"But, Abner," replied Dillworth, "is there a court
that could administer justice if there were no arbi-
trary standard and every man followed his own?"
"I think there is such a court," said Abner.
"If there is such a court it does hot sit in Vir-
Then he settled his huge body in his chair and
spoke like a lawyer who sums up his case.
"I know what you have in mind, Abner, but it is
The Tenth Commandment
a fantastic nation. You would saddle every man
with the thing you call a conscience, and let that ride
him. Well, I would unsaddle him from that.
What is right? What is wrong? These are vexed
questions. I would leave them to the law. Look
what a burden is on every man if he must decide the
justice of every act as it comes up. Now the law
would lift that burden from his shoulders, and I
would let the law bear it."
"But under the law," replied Abner, "the weak
and the ignorant suffer for their weakness and for
this ignorance, and the shrewd and the cunning profit
w4>y their shrewdness and by their cunning. How
would you help that?"
"Now, Abner," said Dillworth, "to help that you
would have to make the world over."
Again Abner was silent for a while.
"Well," he said, "perhaps it could be done if every
man put his shoulder to the wheel."
"But why should it be done?" replied Dillworth.
"Does Nature do it? Look with what indifference
she kills off the weakling. Is there any pity in her
or any of your little soft concerns? I tell you these
things are not to be found anywhere in Nature —
"Or God-made," said Abner.
"Call it what you like," replied Dillworth, "it
will be equally fantastic, and the law would be fan-
tastic to follow after it. As for myself, Abner, I
would avoid these troublesome refinements. Since
the law will undertake to say what is right and what
is wrong I shall leave her to say it and let myself go
free. What she requires me to give I shall give, and
what she permits me to take I shall take, and there
shall be an end of it."
"It is an easy standard," replied Abner, "and it
simplifies a thing that I have come to see you about"
"And what have you come to see me about?" said
Dillworth; "I knew that it was for something you
And he laughed a little, dry, nervous laugh.
I had observed this laugh breaking now and then
into his talk and I had observed his uneasy manner
ever since we came. There was something below
the surface in this man that made him nervous and
it was from that under thing that this laugh broke
"It is about your lawsuit," said Abner.
"And what about it?"
"This," said Abner: "That your suit has reached
the point where you are not the man to have charge
"Abner," cried Dillworth, "what do you mean?"
"I will tell you," said Abner. "I have followed
the progress of this suit, and you have won it. On
any day that you call it up the judge will enter a de-
cree, and yet for a year it has stood there on the
docket and you have not called it up. Why?"
Dillworth did not reply, but again that dry,
nervous laugh broke out.
The Tenth Commandment
"I will answer for you, Dillworth," said Abner
—"you arc afraid!"
Abner extended his arm and pointed out over the
pasture lands, growing dimmer in the gathering twi-
light, across the river, across the wood to where
lights moved and twinkled.
"Yonder," said Abner, "lives Lemuel Arnold; he
is the only man who is a defendant in your suit, the
others are women and children. I know Lemuel
Arnold. I intended to stop this night with him un-
til I thought of you. I know the stock he comes
from. When Hamilton was buying scalps on the
Ohio, and haggling with the Indians over the price
to be paid for those of the women and the children,
old Hiram Arnold walked into the conference:
'Scalp-buyer,' he said, 'buy my scalps; there are no
little ones among them,' and he emptied out on to
the table a bagful of scalps of the king's soldiefs.
That man was Lemuel Arnold's grandfather and
that is the blood he has. You would call him vio-
lent and dangerous, Dillworth, and you would b£
right. He is violent and he is dangerous. I know
what he told you before the courthouse door. And,
Dillworth, you are afraid of that. And so you sit
here looking out over these rich lands and coveting
them in your heart — and are afraid to take them."
The night was descending, and I sat on a step of
the great porch, in the shadow, forgotten by these
two men. Dillworth did not move, and Abner
"That is bad for you, Dillworth, to sit here and
brood over a thing like this. Plans will come to
you that include 'hell's work'; this is no thing for
you to handle. Put it into my hands."
The man cleared his throat with that bit of ner-
"How do you mean — into your hands?" he said.
"Sell me the lawsuit," replied Abner.
Dillworth sat back in his chair at that and covered
his jaw with his hand, and for a good while he was
"But it is these lands I want, Abner, not the money
. "I know what you want," said Abner, "and I will
agree to give you a proportion of all the lands that
I recover in the suit."
"It ought to be a large proportion, then, for the
suit is won."
"As large as you like," said Abner.
Dillworth got up at that and walked about the
porch. One could tell the two things that were mov-
ing in his mind : That Abner was, in truth, the man
to carry the thing through, — he stood well before
the courts and he was not afraid; and the other thing
— How great a proportion of the lands could he de-
mand? Finally he came back and stood before the
"Seven-eights then. Is it a bargain?"
"It is," said Abner. "Write out the contract. 1 '
A negro brought foolscap paper, ink, pens and a
The Tenth Commandment
candle arid set them cm the table. Dillworth wrote,
and when he had finished he signed the paper and
made his seal with a flourish of the pen after his
signature. Then he handed the contract to Abner'
across the table.
Abner read it aloud, weighing each legal term
and every lawyer's phrase in it. Dillworth had
knowledge of such things and he wrote with skill.
Abner folded the contract carefully and put it into
his pocket, then he got a silver dollar out of his
leather wallet and flung it on to the table, for the
paper read : "In consideration of one dollar cash in
hand paid, the receipt of which is hereby acknowl-
edged." The coin struck hard and spun on the oak
board. "There," he Said, "is your silver. It is the
money that Judas was paid in and, like that first
payment to Judas, it is all you'll get."
Dillworth got on his feet. "Abner," he said,
"what do you drive at now?"
"This," replied Abner: "I have bought your
lawsuit; I have paid you for it, and it belongs to me.
The terms of that sale are written down and signed.
You are to receive a portion of what I recover; but
if I recover nothing you can receive nothing."
"Nothing?" Dillworth echoed.
"Nothing!" replied Abner.
Dillworth put his big hands on the table and
rested his body on them ; his head drooped below his
shoulders, and he looked at Abner across the table.
"You mean — you mean "
"Yes," said Abner, "that is what I mean. I shall
dismiss this suit"
"Abner," the other wailed, "this is ruin — these
lands — these rich lands 1" And he put out his arms,
as toward something that one loves. "I have been
a fool. Give me back my paper." Abner arose.
"Dillworth," he said, "you have a short memory.
You said that a man ought to suffer for his lack of
care, and you shall suffer for yours. You said that
pity was fantastic, and I find it fantastic now. You
said that you would take what the law gives you;
well, so shall L"
The sniveling creature rocked his big body gro-
tesquely in his chair.
"Abner," he whined, "why did you come here to
"I did not come to ruin you," said Abner. "I
came to save you. But for me you would have done
"Abner," the man cried, "you are mad. Why
should I do a murder?"
"Dillworth," replied Abner, "there is a certain
commandment prohibited, not because of the evil in
it, but because of the thing it leads to — because there
follows it — I use your own name, Dillworth, 'hell's
work.' This afternoon you tried to kill Lemuel Ar-
nold from an ambush."
Terror was on the man. He ceased to rock his
body. He leaned forward, staring at Abner, the
muscles of his face flabby.
The Tenth Commandment
"Did you sec me?"
"No," replied Abner, "I did not"
The man's body seemed, at that, to escape from
some hideous pressure. He cried out in relief, and
his voice was like air wheezing from the bellows.
"It's a lie! a lie! a lie!"
I saw Abner look hard at the man, but he could
not strike a thing like that.
"It's the truth," he said, "you are the man; but
when I stood in the thicket with your weapon in my
hand I did not know it, and when I came here I did
not know it. But I knew that this ambush was the
work of a coward, and you were the only coward
that I could think of. No," he said, "do not delude
yourself — that was no proof. But it was enough to
bring me here. And the proof? I found it in this
house. I will show it to you. But before I do that,
Dillworth, I will return to you something that is
He put his hand into his pocket, took out a score
of buckshot and dropped them on the table. > They
clattered off and rolled away on the floor.
"And that is how I saved you from murder, Dill-
worth. Before I put your gun back into the hollow
log I drew all the charge in it except the powder."
He advanced a step nearer to the table.
"Dillworth," he said, "a little while ago I asked
you a question that you could not answer. I asked
you what lands were included in the notice of sale for
delinquent taxes printed in that county newspaper.
Half of the newspaper had been torn off, and with
it the other half of that notice. And you could not
answer. Do you remember that question, Dill-
worth? Well, when I asked it of you I had the an-
swer in my pocket. The missing part of that notice
was the wadding over the buckshot !"
He took a crumpled piece of newspaper out of his
pocket and joined it to the other half lying before
Dillworth on the table.
"Look," he said, "how the edges fit!"
CHAPTER X: The Devil's Tools
I WAS about to follow my Uncle Abner into the
garden when at a turn of the hedge, I stopped.
A step or two beyond me in the sun, screened
by a lattice of vines, was a scene that filled me full
of wonder. Abner was standing quite still in the
path, and a girl was clinging to his arm, with her
face buried against his coat. There was no sound,
but the girl's hands trembled and her shoulders were
convulsed with sobs.
Whenever I think of pretty women, even now, I
somehow always begin with Betty Randolph, and
yet, I cannot put her before the eye, for all the
memories. She remains in the fairy-land of youth,
and her description is with the poets ; their extrava-
gances intrude and possess me, and I give it up.
I cannot say that a woman is an armful of apple
blossoms, as they do, or as white as milk, and as
playful as a kitten. These are happy collocations
of words and quite descriptive of her, but they are
not mine. Nor can I draw her in the language of
a civilization to which she does not belong — one of
wheels and spindles with its own type ; superior, no
doubt, but less desirable, I fancy. The age that
grew its women in romance and dowered them with
poetic fancies was not so impracticable as you think.
It is a queer world; those who put their faith in
the plow are rewarded by the plow, and those who
put their faith in miracles are rewarded by miracles.
I -remained in the shelter of the hedge in some
considerable wonder. We had come to pay our
respects to this young woman on her approaching
marriage, and to be received like this was somewhat
beyond our expectations. There could be nothing
in this marriage on which to found a tragedy of
tears. It was a love match if ever there was one.
Edward Duncan was a fine figure of a man; his
lands adjoined, and he had ancestors enough for
Randolph. He stood high in the hills, but I did
not like him. You will smile at that, seeing what
I have written of Betty Randolph, and remember-
ing how, at ten, the human heart is desperately
The two had been mated by the county gossips
from the cradle, and had lived the prophecy. The
romance, too, had got its tang of denial to make it
sharper. The young man had bought his lands and
builded his house, but he must pay for them before
he took his bride in, Randolph said, and he had
stood by that condition.
There had been some years of waiting, and Ran-
dolph had been stormed. The debt had been re-
duced, but a mortgage remained, until now, by
chance, it had been removed, and the gates of Para-
dise were opened. Edward Duncan had a tract of
wild land in the edge of Maryland which his father
had got for a song at a judicial sa^e. He had sold
The Devil's Tools
this land, he said, to a foreign purchaser, and so got
the money to clear off his debt. He had written to
Betty, who was in Baltimore at the time, and she
had hurried back with frocks and furbelows. The
day was set, we had come to see how happy
she would be, and here she was clinging to my Uncle
Abner's arm and crying like her heart would break.
It was sometime before the girl spoke, and Abner
stood caressing her hair, as though she were a little
child. When the paroxysms of tears was over she
told him what distressed her, and I heard the story,
for the turn of the hedge was beside them, and I
could have touched the girl with my hand. She took
a worn ribbon from around her neck and held it
out to Abner. There was a heavy gold cross slung
to it on a tiny ring. I knew this cross, as every one
did; it had been her mother's, and the three big em-
eralds set in it were of the few fine gems in the
county* They were worth five thousand dollars, and
had been passed down from the divided heirlooms
of an English grandmother. I knew what the matter
was before Betty Randolph said it. The emeralds
were gone. The cross lying in her hand was bare.
She told the story in a dozen words. The jewels
had been gone for some time, but her father had not
known it until to-day. She had hoped he would
never know, but by accident he had found it out.
Then he had called an inquisition, and sat down to
discover who had done the robbery. And here it
was that Betty Randolph's greatest grief came in.
The loss of the emeralds was enough; but to have
her old Mammy Liza, who had been the only mother
that she could remember, singled out and interro-
gated for the criminal, was too much to be borne.
Her father was now in his office proceeding with
the outrage. Would my Uncle Abner go and see
him before he broke her heart?
Abner took the cross and held it in his hand. He
asked a question or two, but, on the whole, he said
very little, which seemed strange to me, with the
matter to clear up. How long had the emeralds
been missing? And she replied that they had been
in the cross before her trip to Baltimore, and miss-
ing at her return. She had not taken the cross on
the journey. It had remained among her posses-
sions in her room. She did not know when she had
seen it on her return.
And she began once more to cry, and her dainty
mouth to tremble, and the big tears to gather in
her brown eyes.
Abner promised to go in and brave Randolph at
his inquisition, and bring Mammy Liza out. He
bade Betty walk in the garden until he returned,
and she went away comforted.
But Abner did not at once go in. He remained
for some moments standing there with the cross in
his hand; then, to my surprise, he turned about and
went back the way that he had come. I had barely
time to get out of his way, for he walked swiftly
along the path to the gate, and down to the stable. I
The Devil's Tools
followed, for I wondered why he went here instead
of to the house, as he had promised. He crossed
before the stables and entered a big shed where the
plows and farm tools were kept, the scythes hung
up, and the corn hoes. The shed was- of huge logs,
roofed with clapboards, and open at each end.
I lost a little time in making a detour around the
stable, but when I looked into the shed between a
crack of the logs, my Uncle Abner was sitting be-
fore the big grindstone, turning it with his foot, and
very delicately holding the cross on the edge of the
stone. He paused and examined his work, and then
continued. I could not understand what he was at.
Why had he come here, and why did he grind the
cross on the stone? At any rate, he presently
stopped, looked about until he found a piece of old
leather, and again sat down to rub the cross, as
though to polish what he had ground.
He examined his work from time to time, until
a£ last it pleased him, and he got up. He went out
of the shed and up the path toward the garden. I
knew where he was going now and I took some short
. Randolph's office was a wing built on to the main
residence, after the fashion of the old Virginia man*
sion house. It was a single story with a separate
entrance, so arranged that the master of the house
could receive his official visitors and transact his
business without disturbing his domestic household.
I was a very good Indian at that period of my
life, and skilled in the acts of taking cover. I was
ten years old and had lived the life of the Mohawk,
with much care for accuracy of detail. True, it was
a life I had now given up for larger affairs, but I
retained its advantages. One does not spend whole
afternoons at the blood-thirsty age of five, in stalk-
ing the turkeycock in the wooded pasture, noise-
lessly on his belly, with his wooden knife in his
hand, and not come to the maturity of ten with
the accomplishments of Uncas.
I was presently in a snowball bush, with a very
good view of Randolph's inquisition, and I think that
if Betty had waited to see it, she need not have
gone away in so great a grief. Randolph was sit-
ting behind his table in his pompous manner and
with the dignity of kings. But for all his attitudes,
he took no advantage over Mammy Liza.
The old woman sat beyond him, straight as a rod
in her chair, her black silk dress smoothed into
straight folds, her white cap prim and immaculate,
her square-rimmed spectacles on her nose, and her
hands in her lap. If there was royal blood on
the Congo, she carried it in her veins, for her dig-
nity was real. And there I think she held Ran-
dolph back from any definite accusation. He ad-
vanced with specious and sententious innuendoes and
arguments, a priori and conclusion post hoc ergo
propter hoc to inclose her as the guilty agent. But
from the commanding position of a blameless life,
she did not see it, and he could not make her see
The Devil's Tools
it. She regarded this conference as that of two
important persons in convention assembled, — a meet-
ing together of the heads of the House of Randolph
to consider a certain matter touching its goods and
its honor. And, for all his efforts, he could not dis-
lodge her from the serenity of that position.
"Your room adjoins Betty's?" he said.
"Yes, Mars Ran," she answered. "I's always
slep' next to my chile, ever since her ma handed her
to me outen the bed she was borned in."
"And no one goes into her room but you?"
"No, sah, 'ccptin' when I's there to see what
"Then no other servant in this house could have
taken anything out of Betty's room without your
"That's right, Mars Ran. I'd 'a' knowed it."
"Then," said Randolph, tightening the lines of
his premises, "if you alone have access to the room,
and no one goes in without your consent or knowl-
edge, how could any other servant in this house
have taken these jewels?"
"They didn't!" said the old woman. "I's done
had all the niggers up before me, an' I's ravaged 'em
an' scarchified 'em."
Her mouth tightened with the savage memory.
"I knows 'em 1 I knows 'cm all — mopin' niggers,
an' mealy mouthed niggers, an' shoutin' niggers, an'
cussin' niggers, an' I knows all their carryin's-on,
an' all their underhan' oneryness, an' all their low-
down contraptions. An' they knows I knows it."
She paused and lifted a long, black finger.
"They fools Miss Betty, an' they fools you, Mars
Ran, but they don't fool Mammy Liza."
She replaced her hands together primly in the
lap of her silk dress and continued in a confidential
" 'Course we knows niggers steals, but they steals
eatables, an 9 nobody pays any 'tention to that. Your
Grandpap never did, nor your pap, nor us. You
can't be too hard on niggers, jist as you can't be
too easy on 'em. If you's too hard, they gits down
in the mouth, an' if you's too easy they takes the
place. A down in the mouth nigger is always a
wuthless nigger, an' a biggity nigger is a 'bomina-
She paused a moment, but she had entered upon
her discourse, and she continued.
"I ain't specifyin' but what there's some on this
place that would b'ar watchin', an' I's had my eye
on 'em; but they's like the unthinking horse, they'd
slip a f ril-fral outen the kitchen, or a side of bacon
outen the smoke-house, but they wouldn't do none
of your gran' stealin'.
"No, sah! No, sahl Mars Ran, them julcs
wasn't took by nobody in this house."
She paused and reflected, and her face filled with
the energy of battle.
"I'd jist like to see a nigger tech a whip-stitch
that belongs to my chile. I'd shore peel the hide
The Devil's Tools
offen 'em. Tech it I No, sah, they ain't no nigger
on this place that's a-goin' to rile me."
And in her energy she told Randolph some
"They ain't afearcd of you, Mars Ran, 'cause
they knows they can make up some cock an' bull
story to fool you; an' they ain't afeared of Miss
Betty 'cause they knows they can whip it 'roun' her
with a pitiful face; but I's different. I rules 'em
with the weepen of iron I They ain't none of 'em
that can stand up before me with a lie, for I knows
the innermost and hidden searchings of a nigger."
She extended her clenched hand with a savage
"An' I tells 'em, Mars Ran'll welt you with a
withe, but I'll scarify you with a scorpeen 1"
It was at this moment that my Uncle Abner en-
Mammy Liza immediately assumed her company
manners. She rose and made a little courtesy.
" 'Eben\ Mars Abner," she said; "is you all
Abner replied, and Randolph came forward to
receive him. He got my uncle a chair, and began
to explain the matter with which he was engaged.
Abner said that he had already got the story from
Randolph went back to his place behind the table,
and to his judicial attitudes.
"There is no direct evidence bearing upon this
robbery," he said, "consequently, in pursuing an in-
vestigation of it, we must follow the established and
orderly formula laid down by the law writers. We
must carefully scrutinize all the circumstances of
time, place, motive, means, opportunity, and con-
duct. And, while upon a trial, a judge must assume
the innocence of everybody indicated, upon an in-
vestigation, the inquisitor must assume their guilt."
He compressed his lips and continued with ex-
alted dignity. *
"No one is to be exempt from consideration, not
even the oldest and most trusted servants. The
wisdom of this course was strikingly shown in Lord
William Russell's case, where the facts indicated
suicide, but a rigid application of this rule demon-
strated that my Lord Russell had been, in fact, mur-
dered by his valet."
My uncle did not interrupt. But Mammy Liza
could not restrain her enthusiasm. She was very
proud of Randolph, and, like all negroes, associ-
ated ability with high sounding words. His gran-
diloquence and his pomposity were her delight. Her
eyes beamed with admiration.
"Go on, Mars Ran," she said; "you certainly is
a gran* talker."
Randolph banged the table.
"Shut up!" he roared. "A man can't open his
mouth in this house without being interrupted."
But Mammy Liza only beamed serenely. She
was accustomed to these outbursts of her lord, and
The Devil's Tools
unembarrassed by them. She sat primly in her chair
with the radiance of the beloved disciple.
It is one of the excellences of vanity that it can-
not be overthrown by a chance blow. However
desperately rammed, it always topples back upon
its pedestal. Another would have gone hopelessly
to wreckage under that, but not Randolph. He con-
tinued in his finest manner.
"Bearing this in mind," he said, "let us analyze
the indicatory circumstances. It is possible, of
course, that a criminal agent may plan his crime
with skill, execute it without accident, and maintain
the secret with equanimity, and that all interroga-
tion following upon his act, will be wholly futile;
but this is not usually true, as was conspicuously
evidenced in Sir Ashby Coopers case."
He paused and put the tips of his extended fingers
"What have we here to indicate the criminal
agent? No human eye has seen the robber at his
work, and there are no witnesses to speak; but we
are not to abandon our investigation for that. The
writers on the law tell us that circumstantial evidence
in the case of crimes committed in secret is the most
satisfactory from which to draw conclusions of
guilt, for men may be seduced to perjury from base
motives, but facts, as Mr. Baron Legg so aptly puts
it, 4 cannot lie/ "
He made a large indicatory gesture toward his
"True," he said, "I would not go so far as Mr.
Justice Butler in Donellan's case. I would not hold
circumstantial evidence to be superior to direct evi-
dence, nor would I take the position that it is wholly
beyond the reach and compass of human abilities to
invent a train of circumstances that might deceive
the ordinary inexperienced magistrate. I would re-
call the Vroom case, and the lamentable error of Sir
Matthew Hale, in hanging some sailors for the mur-
der of a shipmate who was, in fact, not dead. But
even that error, sir," and he addressed my uncle
directly in the heat and eloquence of his oration,
"if in the law one may ever take an illustration front
the poets, bore a jewel in its head. It gave us Hale's
He paused for emphasis, and my uncle spoke.
"And what was that rule?" he said.
"That rule, sir," replied Randolph, "ought not to
be stated from memory. It is a nefarious practice
of our judges, whereby errors creep into the sound
text. It should be read as it stands, sir, in the
elegant language of Sir Matthew."
"Leaving out the elegant language of Sir Mat-
thew," replied Abner, "what does the rule mean?"
"In substance and effect," continued Randolph,
"but by no means in these words, the rule directs
the magistrate to be first certain that a crime has
been committed before he undertakes to punish any-
body for it."
The Devil's Tools
"Precisely 1" said my uncle; "and it is the very
best sense that I ever heard of in the law."
He held the gold cross out in his big palm.
"Take this case," he said. "What is the use to
speculate about who stole the emeralds, when it is
certain that they have not been stolen!"
"Not stolen !" cried Randolph. "They are gone !"
"Yes," replied Abner, "they are gone, but they are
not stolen. ... I would ask you to consider this
fact: If these emeralds had been stolen out of the
cross, the tines of the metal which held the stones
in place, would have been either broken off or pried
up, and we would find either the new break in the
metal, or the twisted projecting tines. . . . But, in-
stead," he continued, "the points of the setting are
all quite smooth. What does that indicate?"
Randolph took the cross and examined it with
"You are right, Abner," he said; "the settings are
all worn away. I am not surprised; the cross is
"And if the settings are worn away," continued
my uncle, "what has become of the stones?"
Randolph banged the table with his clenched hand.
"They have fallen out. Lost 1 By gad, sir I"
My uncle leaned back in his chair, like one to
whom a comment is superfluous. But Randolph de-
livered an oration. It was directed to Mammy Liza,
and the tenor of it was felicitations upon the happy
incident that turned aside suspicion from any mem*
ber of his household. He grew eloquent, pictured
his distress, and how his stern, impartial sense of
justice had restrained it, and finally, with what seign-
iorial joy he now received the truth.
And the old woman sat under it in ecstatic rap*
ture. She made little audible sighs and chirrups.
Her elbows were lifted and she moved her body
rhythmically to the swing of Randolph's periods.
She was entranced at the eloquence, but the intent
of Randolph's speech never reached her. She was
beyond the acquittal, as she had been beyond the
She continued to bow radiantly after Randolph
had made an end.
"Yes, sab," she said; "yes, sah, Mars Ran, I done
tole you that them jules wan't took by none of
But, as for me, I was overcome with wonder.
Here was my uncle convincing Randolph by a piece
of evidence which he, himself, had deliberately man-
ufactured on the face of the grindstone.
So that was what he had been at in the shed-
grinding off the tines and polishing the settings with
a piece of leather, so they would give the appear-
ance of being worn. From my point of vantage in
the snowball bush, I looked upon him with a grow-
ing interest. He sat, oblivious to Randolph's vapor-
ings, looking beyond him, through the open window
at the far-off green fields. He had taken these pains
to acquit Mammy Liza. But some one was guilty
The Devil's Tools
then I And who? I got a hint of that within the
next five minutes, and I was appalled.
"Liza," said Randolph, descending to the prac-
tical, "who sweeps Miss Betty's room?"
"Laws, Mars Ran," replied the old negro,
" 'course I does everything fo' my chile. The house
niggers don't do nothin' — that is, they don't do
nothin' 'thouten I sets an' watches 'em. I sets when
they washes the winders, and I sets when they
sweeps, an' I sets when they makes the bed up. Fa
been a-settin' there all the time Miss Betty's been
gone, 'ceptin', of course, when Mars Cedward waa
She paused and tittered.
"Bless my life, how young folks does carry on I
Every day heah comes Mara Cedward a-ridin 1 up,
an' he says, *Howdy, Mammy, I reckon if I can't
see Miss Betty, 1 Fll have to run upstairs an' look at
her Ma.' An' he lights offen his horse, 'Get your
key, Mammy,' he says, 'an* open the sacred po'tals.'
And I gets the key outeh my pocket an' unlocks the
do' an' he whippits in there to that little picture of
Miss Betty's Ma, that hangs over her bureau."
The old woman paused and wiped a mist from her
spectacles with an immaculate and carefully folded
"Yes, yes, sah, 'co'se Miss Betty does look like
her Ma — she's the very spit-an'-image of her. . . .
Well, I goes along back an' sets down on the stair-
ateps, an' waits till Mars Cedward gets done with
his worshiping, an' he comes along an 9 says,
'Thankee, Mammy, I reckon that'll have to last me
until to-morrow,' an' then I goes back an' locks the
do'. I's mighty keerful to lock do's, I ain't minded
to have no 'quisitive nigger ramshakin' 'roun'."
But my uncle stopped her and sent her to Betty
as evidence in the flesh that she had come acquit of
Randolph's inquisition. And the two men fell into
a talk upon other matters.
But I no longer listened. I sat within my bush
and studied the impassive face of my Uncle Abner,
and tried to join these contradictory incidents into
something that I could understand. Slowly the
thing came to me ! But I did not push on into the
inevitable conclusion. Its consequences were too
appalling. I saw it and let it lie.
Somebody had pried the emeralds out of that
cross, — somebody having access to the room. And
that person was not Mammy Liza! Abner knew
that • . . And he deliberately falsified the evi-
dence. To acquit Mammy Liza ? Something more
than that, I thought. She was in no danger; even
Randolph behind his judicial attitudes, 'had never
entertained the idea for a moment. Then, this thing
meant that my uncle had deliberately screened the
real criminal. But why? Abner was no respecter
of men. He stood for justice— clean and ruthless
justice, tempered by no distinctions. Why, then,
And then I had an inspiration. Abner was think-
The Devil's Tools
ing of some one beyond the criminal, and of the
consequences to that one if the truth were known;
and this thing he had done, he had done for her!
And now I thought about her, too.
Her faith, her trust, the dearest illusion of her
life had been imperiled, had been destroyed, but
for my uncle's firm, deliberate act.
And then, another thing rose up desperately be-
fore me. How could he let this girl go on in
ignorance of the truth? Must he not, after all,
tell her what he knew? And my tongue grew dry
in contemplation of that ordeal. And yet again,
why? Love of her had been ultimately the mo-
tive. She need never know, and the secret might
live out everybody's life. Moreover, for all his
iron ways, Abner was a man who saw justice in its
large and human aspect, and he stood for the spirit,
above the letter, of the truth.
And yet, even there under the limited horizon of
a child,! seemed to feel that he must tell her. And
so when he finally got away from Randolph, and
turned into the garden, I stalked him with desper-
ate cunning. I was on fire to know what he would
do. Would he speak? Or would he keep the thing
forever silent? I had sat before two acts of this
drama, and I would see what the curtains went
down on. And I did see it from the shelter of the
He found Betty at the foot of the garden. She
ran to him in joy at Mammy Liza's vindication, and
with pretty evidences of her affection. But he took
her by the hand without a word and led her to
And when she was seated he sat down beside her.
I could not see her face, but I could hear his voice
and it was wonderfully kind.
"My child," he said, "there is always one reason,
if no other, why good people must not undertake
to work with a tool of the devil, and that reason
is because they handle it so badly."
He paused and took the gold cross out of his
"Now here," he continued, "I have had to help
somebody out who was the very poorest bungler
with a devil's tool. I am not very skilled myself
with that sort of an implement, but, dear me, I
am not so bad a workman as this person 1 . . . Let
me show you. . . . The one who got the emeralds
out of this cross left the twisted and broken tines
to indicate a deliberate criminal act, so I had to
grind them off in order that the thing might look
like an accident. . . . That cleared everybody—^
Mammy Liza, who had no motive for this act, and
Edward Duncan, who had."
The girl stood straight up.
"Oh," she said, and her voice was a long shud-
dering whisper, "no one could think he did it I"
"And why not?" continued my uncle. "He had
the opportunity and the motive. He was in the
room during your absence, and he needed the money
The Devil's Tools
which those emeralds would bring in order to clear
his lands of debt."
The girl clenched her hands and drew them in
against her heart.
"But you don't think he stole them?" And again
her voice was in that shuddering whisper.
I lay trembling.
"No," replied Abner, "I do not think that Ed-
ward Duncan stole these emeralds, because I know
that they were never stolen at all."
He put out his hand and drew the girl do\rn be-
"My child," he continued, "we must always credit
the poorest thief with some glimmering of intelli-
gence. When I first saw this cross in your hand,
I knew that this was not the work of a thief, be-
cause no thief would have painfully pried the emer-
alds out, in order to leave the cross behind as an
evidence of his guilt. Now, there is a reason why
this cross was left behind, but it is not the reason of
a thief — two reasons, in fact: because some one
wished to keep it, and because they were not afraid
to do so.
"Now, my child," and Abner put his arm ten-
derly around the girl's shoulders, "who could that
person be who treasured this cross and was not
afraid to keep it?"
She clung to my uncle then, and I heard the con-
fession among her sobbings. Edward Duncan was
making every sacrifice for her, and she had made
one for him. She had sold the emeralds In Balti-
more, and through an agent* bought his mountain
land. But he must never know, never in this world,
and my Uncle Abner must promise her that upon
And lying in the deep timothy-grass, I heard him
Chapter XI: The Hidden Law
WE had come out to Dudley Betts' house
and were standing in a bit of meadow.
It was an afternoon of April; there had
been a shower of rain, and now the sun was on the
velvet grass and the white-headed clover blossoms.
The sky was blue above and the earth green below,
and swimming between them was an air like lotus.
Facing the south upon this sunny field was a stand
of bees, thatched with rye-straw and covered over
with a clapboard roof, the house of each tribe a
section of a hollow gum-tree, with a cap on the top
for the tribute of honey to the human tyrant. The
bees had come out after the shower was gone, and
they hummed at their work with the sound of a
Randolph stopped and looked down upon the
humming hive. He lifted his finger with a little
" 'Singing masons building roofs of gold,' " he
said. "Ah, Abner, William of Avon was a great
My uncle turned about at that and looked at
Randolph and then at the hive of bees. A girl was
coming up from the brook below with a pail of wa-
ter. She wore a simple butternut frock, and she
was clean-limbed and straight like those first daugh-
ters of the world who wove and spun. She paused
before the hive and the bees swarmed about her
as about a great clover blossom, and she was at
home and unafraid like a child in a company of
yellow butterflies. She went on to the spring house
with her dripping wooden pail, kissing the tips of
her fingers to the bees. We followed, but before
the hive my uncle stopped and repeated the line
that Randolph had quoted :
" 'Singing masons building roofs of gold, 9 • . .
and over a floor of gold and pillars of gold."
He added, "He was a good riddle maker, your Eng-
lish poet, but not so good as Samson, unless I help
I received the fairy fancy with all children's joy.
Those little men singing as they laid their yellow
floor, and raised their yellow walls, and arched
their yellow roof! Singing! The word seemed to
open up some sunlit fairy world.
It pleased Randolph to have thus touched my
"A great poet, Abner," he repeated, "and more
than that; he drew lessons from nature valuable
for doctrine. Men should hymn as they labor and
fill the fields with song and so suck out the virus
from the curse. He was a great philosopher, Ab-
ner — William of Avon."
"But not so great a philosopher as Saint Paul,"
replied Abner, and he turned from the bees toward
The Hidden Law
old Dudley Bctts, digging in the fields before his
door. He put his hands behind him and lifted his
stern bronze face.
"Those who coveted after money," he said,
"have 'pierced themselves through with many sor-
rows.' And is it not the truth? Yonder is old
Dudley Betts. He is doubled up with aches; he
has lost his son; he is losing his life, and he will
lose his soul — all for money — 'Pierced themselves
through with many sorrows,' as Saint Paul said it,
and now, at the end he has lost the horde that he
The man was a by-word in the hills; mean and
narrow, with an economy past belief. He used
everything about him to one end and with no
thought but gain. He cultivated his fields to the
very door, and set his fences out into the road, and
he extracted from those about him every tithe of
service. He had worked his son until the boy had
finally run away across the mountains. He had
driven his daughter to the makeshifts of the first
patriarchal people- — soap from ashes, linen from
hemp, and the wheel and the loom for the frock
upon her limbs.
And like every man under a single dominating
passion, he grew in suspicion and in fear. He was
afraid to lend out his money lest he lose it. He
had given so much for this treasure that he would
take no chance with it, and so kept it by him in
But caution and fear are not harpies to be
halted; they wing on. Betts was dragged far in
their claw-feet. There is a land of dim things that
these convoys can enter. Betts arrived there. We
must not press the earth too hard,. old, forgotten
peoples believed, lest evil things are squeezed out
that strip us and avenge it. And ancient crones,
feeble, wrapped up by the fire, warned him: The
earth suffered us to reap, but not to glean her.
We must not gather up every head of wheat. The
earth or dim creatures behind the earth would be
offended. It was the oldest belief. The first men
poured a little wine out when they drank and brought
an offering of their herds and the first fruits of the
fields. It was written in the Book. He could get it
down and read it.
What did they know that they did this? Life
was hard then; men saved all they could. There
was some terrible experience behind this custom,
some experience that appalled and stamped the race
with a lesson !
At first Betts laughed at their warnings ; then he
cursed at them, and his changed manner marked how
far he had got. The laugh meant disbelief, but the
curse meant fear.
And now, the very strangest thing had happened:
The treasure that the old man had so painfully laid
up had mysteriously vanished clear away. No one
knew it. Men like Betts, cautious and secretive,
are dumb before disaster. They conceal the deep
The Hidden Law
mortal hurt as though to hide it from themselves.
He had gone in the night and told Randolph
and Abner, and now they had come to see his house.
He put down his hoe when we came up and led
us in. It was a house like those of the first men,
with everything in it home-made — hand-woven rag-
carpets on the floor, and hand-woven coverlets on
the beds; tables and shelves and benches of rude
carpentry. These things spoke of the man's econ-
omy. But there were also things that spoke of his
fear: The house was a primitive stockade. The
door was barred with a beam, and there were heavy
shutters at the window; an ax stood by the old
man's bed and an ancient dueling pistol hung by
its trigger-guard to a nail.
I did not go in, for youth is cunning. I sat down
on the doorstep and fell into so close a study of
a certain wasp at work under a sill that I was
overlooked as a creature without ears; but I had
ears of the finest and I lost no word.
The old man got two splint-bottom chairs and
put them by the table for his guests, and then he
brought a blue earthen jar and set it before them.
It was one of the old-fashioned glazed jars peddled
by the hucksters, smaller but deeper than a crock,
with a thick rim and two great ears. In this he
kept his gold pieces until on a certain night they
The old man's voice ran in and out of a whisper
as he told the story. He knew the very night,
because he looked into his jar before he slept and
every morning when he got out of his bed. It had
been a devil's night — streaming clouds drove across
an iron sky, a thin crook of a moon sailed, and a
high bitter wind scythed the earth.
Everybody remembered the night when he got
out his almanac and named it There had been
noises, old Betts said, but he could not define them.
Such a" night is full of voices; the wind whispers
in the chimney and the house frame creaks. The
wind had come on in gusts at sunset, full of dust
and whirling leaves, but later it had got up into a
gale. The fire had gone out and the house inside
was black as a pit. He did not know what went
on inside or out, but he knew that the gold was gone
at daylight, and he knew that no living human
creature had got into his house. The bar on his
door held and the shutters were bolted. Whatever
entered, entered through the keyhole or through the
throat of the chimney that a cat would stick in.
Abner said nothing, but Randolph sat down to
an official inquiry:
"You have been robbed, Betts," he said. "Some-
body entered your house that night."
"Nobody entered it," replied the old man in his
hoarse, half-whispered voice, "either on that night
or any other night. The door was fast, Squire."
"But the thief may have closed it behind him."
Betts shook his head. "He could not put up the
bar behind him, and besides, I set it in a certain way,
The Hidden Law
It was not moved. And the windows — I bolt them
and turn the bolt at a certain angle. No human
It was not possible to believe that this man could
be mistaken. One could see with what care he had
set his little traps — the bar across the door pre-
cisely at a certain hidden line; the bolts of the
window shutters turned precisely to an angle that
he alone knew. It was not likely that Randolph
would suggest anything that this cautious old man
had not already thought of.
"Then," continued Randolph, "the thief concealed
himself in your house the day before the robbery
and got out of it on the day after."
But again Betts shook his head, and his eyes ran
over the house and to a candle on the mantelpiece.
"I look," he said, "every night before I go to
And one could see the picture of this old, fearful
man, looking through his house with the smoking
tallow candle, peering into every nook and corner.
Could a thief hide from him in this house that he
knew inch by inch? One could not believe it. The
creature took no chance; he had thought of every
danger, this one among them, and every night he
looked! He would know, then, the very cracks in
the wall. He would have found a rat.
Then, it seemed to me, Randolph entered the only
road there was out of this mystery.
"Your son knew about this money?"
"Yes," replied Betts, " 'Lander knew about it.
He used to say that a part of it was his because
he had worked for it as much as I had. But I told
him," and the old man's voice cheeped in a sort of
laugh, "that he was mine."
"Where was your son Philander when the money
disappeared?" said Randolph.
"Over the mountains," said Betts; "he had been
gone a month." Then he paused and looked at
Randolph. "It was not 'Lander. On that day he
was in the school that Mr. Jefferson set up. I had
a letter from the master asking for money. . . .
I have the letter," and he got up to get it.
But Randolph waved his hand and sat back in
his chair with the aspect of a brooding oracle.
It was then that my uncle spoke.
"Betts," he said, "how do you think the money
The old man's voice got again into that big crude
"I don't know, Abner."
But my uncle pressed him.
• "What do you think?"
Betts drew a little nearer to the table.
"Abner," he said, "there are a good many things
going on around a man that he don't understand.
We turn out a horse to pasture, and he comes in
with hand-holts in his mane. . . . You have seen
"Yes," replied my uncle.
The Hidden Law
And I had seen it, too, many a time, when the
horses were brought up in the spring from pasture,
their manes twisted and knotted into loops, as though
to furnish a hand-holt to a rider.
"Well, Abner," continued the old man in his
rustling whisper, "who rides the horse? You can-
not untie or untwist those hand-holts — you must
cut them out with shears — with iron. Is jt true?"
"It is true," replied my uncle.
"And why, eh, Abner? Because those hand-holts
were never knotted in by any human fingers ! You
know what the old folk say?"
"I know," answered my uncle. "Do you believe
"Eh, Abner!" he croaked in the guttural whis-
per. "If there were no witches, why did our fa-
thers hang up iron to keep them off? My grand-
mother saw one burned in the old country. She
had ridden the king's horse, and greased her hands
with shoemakers 9 wax so her fingers would not slip
in the mane. . . . Shoemakers 9 wax! Mark you
"Betts," cried Randolph, "you are a fool; there
are no witches!"
"There was the Witch of Endor," replied my
uncle. "Go on, Betts."
"By gad, sir!" roared Randolph, "if we are to
try witches, I shall have to read up James the
First. That Scotch king wrote a learned work on
demonology. He advised the magistrates to search
on the body of the witch for the seal of the devil;
that would be a spot insensible to pain, and, James
said, Trod for it with a needle.' "
But my uncle was serious.
"Go on, Betts, ,, he said. "I do not believe that
any man entered your house and robbed you. But
why do you think that a witch did?"
"Well, Abner," answered the old man, "who
could have got in but such a creature? A thief
cannot crawl through a keyhole, but there are things
that can. My grandmother said that once in the
old country a man awoke one night to see a gray
wolf sitting by his fireside. He had an ax, as I have,
and he fought the wolf with that and cut off its paw,
whereupon it fled screaming through the keyhole.
And the paw lying on the floor was a woman's
"Then, Betts," cried Randolph, "it's damned
lucky that you didn't use your ax, if that is what
one finds on the floor."
Randolph had spoken with pompous sarcasm, but
at the words there came upon Abner's face a look
"It is," he said, "in God's name!"
Betts leaned forward in his chair.
"And what would have happened to me, Abner,
do you think, if I had used my ax? Would I have
died there with the ax in my hand?"
The look of horror remained upon my uncle's
The Hidden Law
"You would have wished for that when the light
came; to die is sometimes to escape the pit."
"I would have fallen into hell, then?"
"Aye, Betts," replied my uncle, "straightway into*
The old man rested his hands on the posts of the
"The creatures behind the world are baleful
creatures," he muttered in his big whisper.
Randolph got up at that
"Damme !" he said. "Are we in the time of
Roger Williams, and is this Massachusetts, that
witches ride and men are filched of their gold by
magic and threatened with hell fire? What is this
cursed foolery, Abner?"
"It is no foolery, Randolph," replied my uncle*
"but the living truth."
"The truth!" cried Randolph. "Do you call it
the truth that creatures, not human, able to enter
through the keyhole and fly away, have Betts' gold,
and if he had fought against this robbery with his
ax he would have put himself in torment? Damme,
man! In the name of common sense, do you call
this the truth?"
"Randolph," replied Abner, and his voice was
slow and deep, "it is every word the truth."
Randolph moved back the chair before him and
sat down. He looked at my uncle curiously.
"Abner," he raid, "you used to be a crag of
common sense. The legends and theories of fools
1>roke on you and went to pieces. Would you now
testify to witches?"
"And if I did," replied my uncle, "I should have
Saint Paul behind me."
"The fathers of the church fell into some errors,"
"The fathers of the law, then?" said Abner.
Randolph took his chin in his hand at that "It
is true," he said, "that Sir Matthew Hale held noth-
ing to be so well established as the fact of witch-
craft for three great reasons, which he gave in their
order, as became the greatest judge in England:
First, because it was asserted in the Scriptures; sec-
ond, because all nations had made laws against it;
and, third, because the human testimony in support
of it was overwhelming. I believe that Sir Matthew
had knowledge of some six thousand cases. . . .
But Mr. Jefferson has lived since then, Abner, and
this is Virginia."
"Nevertheless," replied my uncle, "after Mr. Jef-
ferson, and in Virginia, this thing has happened"
Randolph swore a great oath.
"Then, by gad, sir, let us burn the old women in
the villages until the creatures who carried Berts'
treasure through the keyhole bring it back!"
Betts spoke then.
"They have brought some of it back I"
My uncle turned sharply in his chair.
"What do you mean, Betts?" he said.
"Why this, Abner," replied the old man, his voice
The Hidden Law
descending into the cavernous whisper; "on three
mornings I have found some of my gold pieces
in the jar. And they came as they went, Abner,
with every window fastened down and the bar across
the door. And there is another thing about these
pieces that have come bade — they are mine, for I
know every piece — but they have been in the hands
of the creatures that ride the horses in the pasture
—they have been handled by witches!" He whis-
pered the word with a fearful glance about him.
"How do I know that? Wait, I will show you !"
He went over to his bed and got out a little box
from beneath his cornhusk mattress — a worn, smoke-
stained box with a sliding lid. He drew the lid off
with his thumb and turned the contents out on the
"Now look," he said; "look, there is wax on every
piece ! Shoemakers 9 wax, mark you. • • . Eh, Ab-
ner! My mother said that — the creatures grease
their hands with that so their fingers will not slip
when they ride the barebacked horses in the night.
They have carried this gold clutched in their hands,
see, and the wax has come off !"
My uncle and Randolph leaned over the table.
They examined the coins.
"By the Eternal I" cried Randolph. "It is wax!
But were they clean before?"
"They were clean," the old man answered. "The
wax is from the creatures* fingers. Did not my
mother say it?"
My uncle sat back in his chair, but Betts strained
forward and put his fearful query:
"What do you think, Abner; will all the gold
My uncle did not at once reply. He sat for some
time silent, looking through the open door at the
sunny meadowland and the far off hills. But finally
he spoke like one who has worked out a problem
and got the answer.
"It will not all come back/' he said.
"How much, then?" whispered Betts.
"What is left," replied Abner, "when the toll is
"You know where the gold is?"
"And the creatures that have it, Abner," Betts
whispered, "they are not human?"
"They are not human !" replied my uncle.
Then he got up and began to walk about the
house, but not to search for clews to this mysterious
thing. He walked like one who examines some*
thing within himself — or something beyond the eye
— and old Betts followed him with his straining
face. And Randolph sat in his chair with his arms
folded and his chin against his stock, as a skeptic
overwhelmed by proof might sit in a house of
haunted voices. He was puzzled upon every hand.
The thing was out of reason at every point, both in
the loss and in the return of these coins upon the
table, and my uncle's comments were below the
The Hidden Law
soundings of all sense. The creatures who now
had Berts' gold could enter through the keyhole!
Betts would have gone into the pit if he had struck
out with his %xl A moiety of this treasure would
be taken out and the rest returned I And the coins
testified to no human handling! The thing had no
face nor aspect of events in nature. Mortal thieves
enjoyed no such supernal powers. These were the
attributes of the familiar spirit. Nor did the hu-
man robber return a per cent upon his gains!
I have said that my uncle walked about the floor.
But he stopped now and looked down at the hard,
miserly old man.
"Betts," he said, "this is a mysterious world.
It is hedged about and steeped in mystery. Listen
to me! The Patriarchs were directed to make an
offering to the Lord of a portion of the increase in
their herds. Why? Because the Lord had need of
sheep and heifers? Surely not, for the whole earth
and its increase were His. There was some other
reason, Betts. I do not understand what it was,
but I do understand that no man can use the earth
and keep every tithe of the increase for himself*
They did not try it, but you did!"
He paused and filled his big lungs.
"It was a disastrous experiment. . . . What will
"What must I do, Abner?" the old man whis-
pered. "Make a sacrifice like the Patriarchs?"
"A sacrifice you must make, Betts," replied my
uncle, "but not like the Patriarchs. What you re-
ceive from the earth you must divide into three equal
parts and keep one part for yourself."
"And to whom shall I give the other two parts,
"To whom would you wish to give them, Betts,
if you had the choice?"
The old man fingered about his mouth.
"Well," he said, "a man would give to those of
his own household first — if he had to give."
"Then," said Abner, "from this day keep a third
of your increase for yourself and give the other
two-thirds to your son and your daughter."
"And the gold, Abner? Will it come back?"
"A third part will come back. Be content with
"And the creatures that have my gold? Will
they harm me?"
"Betts," replied my uncle, "the creatures that
have your gold on this day hidden in their house
will labor for you as no slaves have ever labored
—without word or whip. Do you promise?"
The fearful old man promised, and we went out
into the sun.
The tall straight young girl was standing before
the springhouse, kneading a dish of yellow butter
and singing like a blackbird. My uncle strode down
to her. We could not hear the thing he said, but
the singing ceased when he began to talk and burst
out in a fuller note when he had finished — a big,
The Hidden Law
happy, joyous note that seemed to fill the meadow*
We waited for him before the stand of bees, and
Randolph turned on him when he came.
"Abner," he said, "what is the answer to this
damned riddle ?"
"You gave it, Randolph," he replied—" •Sing-
ing masons building roofs of gold.'" And he
pointed to the bees. "When I saw that the cap
on one of the gums had b$en moved I thought
Bens' gold was there, and when I saw the wax
on the coins I was certain."
"But," cried Randolph, "you spoke of creatures
not human — creatures that could enter through the
ieyhole — creatures — \ — "
"I spoke of the bees," replied my uncle.
"But you said Betts would have fallen into hell
if he had struck out with his ax 1"
"He would have killed his daughter," replied
Abner. "Can you think of a more fearful hell?
She took the gold and hid it in the bee cap. But
she was honest with her father; whenever she sent
a sum of money to her brother she returned an
equal number of gold pieces to old Betts' jar."
"Then," said Randolph, with a great oath, "there
is no witch here with her familiar spirits?"
"Now that," replied my uncle, "will depend upon
the imagery of language. There is here a subtle
maiden and a stand of bees !"
Chapter XII: The Riddle
I HAVE never seen the snow fall as it fell on
the night of the seventeenth of February. It
had been a mild day with a soft, stagnant air.
The sky seemed about to descend and enclose the
earth, as though it were a thing which it had long
pursued and had now got into a corner. All day it
seemed thus to hover motionless above its quarry,
and the earth to be apprehensive like a thing in
fear. Animals were restless, and men, as they stood
about and talked together, looked up at the sky.
We were in the county seat on that day. The
grand jury was sitting, and Abner had been sum-
moned to appear before it. It was the killing of
old Christian Lance that the grand jury was inquir-
ing into. He had been found one morning in his
house, bound into a chair. The body sat straining
forward, death on it, and terror in its face. There
was no one in the house but old Christian, and it
was noon before the neighbors found him. The
tragedy had brought the grand jury together, and
had filled the hills with talk, for it left a mystery
This mystery that Christian sealed up in his death
was one that no man could get a hint at while he
was living — what had the old man done with his
money? He grazed a few cattle and got a hand-
some profit. He spent next to nothing; he gave
nothing to any one, and he did not put his money
out to interest. It was known that he would take
only gold in payment for his cattle. He made no
secret of that. The natural inference was that he
buried this coin in some spot about his garden, but
idle persons had watched his house for whole nights
after he had sold his cattle, and had never seen him
come out with a spade. And young bloods, more
curious, I think, than criminal, had gone into his
house when he was absent, and searched it more
than once. There was no corner that they had not
looked into, and no floor board that they had not
lifted, nor any loose stone about the hearth that they
had not felt under.
Once, in conference on this mystery, somebody
had suggested that the knobs on the andirons and
the handles on the old high-boy were gold, having
gotten the idea from some tale. And a little later,
when the old man returned one evening from the
grist-mill, he found that one of these knobs on the
andirons had been broken off. But, as the thief
never came back for the other, it was pretty certain
that this fantastic notion was not the key to Chris-
It was after one of these mischievous searchings
that he put up his Delphic notice when he went
away — a leaf from a day-book, scrawled in pencil,
and pinned to the mantelpiece:
"Why don't you look in the cow?"
The idle gossips puzzled over that. What did it
mean? Was the thing a sort of taunt? And did
the old man mean that since these persons had
looked into every nook and corner of his house, they
ought also to have looked into the red mouth of the
cow? Or did he mean that his money wa$ invested
in cattle and there was the place to look? Or was
the thing a cryptic sentence — like that of some an-
cient oracle — in which the secret to his hoarded
gold was hidden?
At any rate it was certain that old Christian was
not afraid to go away and leave his door open, and
the secret to guard itself. And he was justified in
that confidence. The mischievous gave over their
inquisitions, and the mystery became a sort of
With the eyes of the curious thus on him, and that
mystery for background, it was little wonder that
his tragic death fired the country.
I have said there was a horror about the dead
man's face as he sat straining in the chair. And the
thing was in truth a horror! But that word does
not tell the story. The eyes, the muscles of his jaw,
the very flesh upon his bones seemed to strain with
some deadly resolution, as though the indomitable
spirit of the man, by sheer determination, would
force the body to do its will, even after death was
on it. And here there was a curious thing. It was
not about the house, where his treasure might have
been concealed, that the dead man strained, but
toward the door, as though he would follow after
some one who had gone out there.
The neighbors cut him from the chair, straight-
ened out his limbs, and got him buried. <But his
features, set in that deadly resolution, they could not
straighten out. Neither the placidity of death, nor
the fingers of those who prepared the man for
burial, could relax the muscles or get down his eye-
lids. He lay in the coffin with that hideous resolu-
tion on his face, and .he went into the earth with it.
When the man was found, Randolph sent for
Abner, and the two of them looked through the
house. Nothing had been disturbed. There was
a kettle on the crane, and a crock beside the
hearth. The ears of seed corn hung from the raft-
ers, trussed up by their shucks; the bean pods to-
gether in a cluster; the cakes of tallow sat on a shelf
above the mantel; the festoons of dried apples and
the bunches of seasoned herbs hung against the chim-
ney. The bed and all the furniture about the house
was in its order.
When they had finished with that work they did
not know who it was that had killed old Christian.
Abner did not talk, but he said that much, and the
Justice of the Peace told all he knew to every casual
visitor. True, it was nothing more than the county
knew already, but his talk annoyed Abner.
"Randolph's a leaky pitcher," he said. And I
think it was this comment that inspired the notion
that Abner knew something that he had not told the
At any rate he was a long time before the grand
jury on this February day. The grand jury sat be-
hind closed doors. They were stern, silent men, and
nothing crept out through the keyhole. But after
the witnesses were heard, the impression got about
that the grand jury did not know who had killed
old Christian, and this conclusion was presently veri-
fied when they came in before the judge. They had
no indictment to find. And when the judge inquired
if they knew of anything that would justify the pros-
ecuting attorney in taking any further action on be-
half of the state, the foreman shook his head.
Night was descending when we left the county-
seat. Abner sat in his saddle like a man of bronze,
his face stern, as it always was when he was silent,
and I rode beside him. I wish I could get my Uncle
Abner before your eye. He was one of those aus*
tere, deeply religious men who might have followed
Cromwell, with a big iron frame, a grizzled beard
and features forged out by a smith. His god was
thi god of the Tishbite, who numbered his followers
by the companies who drew the sword. The land
had need of men like Abner. The government of
Virginia was over the Alleghenies, and this great,
fertile cattle country, hemmed in by the far-off
mountains like a wall of the world, had its own
peace to keep. And it was these iron men who kept
it. The fathers had got this land in grants from
the King of England; they had held it against the
savage and finally against the King himself . . .
And the sons were like them.
The horses were nervous; they flung their heads
about, and rattled the bit rings and traveled together
like men apprehensive of some danger to be over-
taken. That deadly stillness of the day remained,
but the snow was now beginning to appear. It fell
like no other snow that I have ever seen — not a
gust of specks or a shower of tiny flakes, but now
and then, out of the dirty putty-colored sky, a flake
as big as a man's thumb-nail winged down and
lighted on the earth like some living creature. And
it clung to the thing that it lighted on as though
out of the heavens it had selected that thing to
destroy. And, while it clung, there came another
of these soft white creatures to its aid, and settled
beside it, and another and another, until the bare
stem of the ragweed, or the brown leaf of the beech
tree snapped under the weight of these clinging
It is a marvel how quickly this snow covered up
the world, and how swiftly and silently it descended.
The trees and fences were grotesque and misshapen
with it, The landscape changed and was blotted out.
Night was on us, and always the invading swarm of
flakes increased until they seemed to crowd one an-
other in the stagnant air.
Presently Abner stopped and looked up at the sky,
but he did not speak and we went on. But now the
very road began to be clogged with this wet snow;
great limbs broke at the tree trunks tinder the weight
of it; the horses began to flounder, and at last Abner
stopped. It seemed to be at a sort of cross-road
in a forest, but I was lost. The snow had covered
every landmark that I knew. We had been travel-
ing for an hour in a country as unfamiliar as the
Abner turned out of the road into the forest My
horse followed. We came presently into the open,
and stopped under the loom of a house. It was a
great barn of hewn logs, but unused and empty. The
door stood open on its broken hinges. We got down,
took the horses in, removed the saddles, and filled
the mangers with some old hay from the loft. I
had no idea where we were. We could not go on,
and I thought we would be forced to pass the night
here. But this was not Abner's plan.
"Let us try to find the house, Martin," he said,
"and build a fire."
We set out from the stable. Abner broke a trail
through the deep snow, and I followed at his heels.
He must have had some sense of direction, for we
could not see. We seemed an hour laboring in that
snow, but it could only have been a few minutes at
the furthest. Presently we came upon broad steps,
and under the big columns of a portico. And I knew
the place for an old abandoned manor house, set
in a corner of worn-out fields, in the edge of the
forest, where the river bowed in under sheer banks
a dozen fathoms down. The estate was grown up
with weeds, and the house falling to decay. But
now, when we came into the portico, a haze of light
was shining through the fan-shaped glass over the
door. It was this light that disturbed Abner. He
stopped and stood there in the shelter of the col-
umns, like a man in some perplexity.
"Now, who could that be?" he said, not to me,
but to himself.
And he remained for some time, watching the
blur of light, and listening for a sound. But there
was no sound. The house had been abandoned.
The windows were nailed up. Finally he went over
to the ancient door and knocked. For answer there
was the heavy report of a weapon, and a white
splinter leaped out of a panel above his head. He
sprang aside, and the weapon bellowed again, and
I saw another splinter. And then I saw a thing that
I had not noticed, that the door and the boards over
the windows were riddled with these bullet holes.
Abner shouted out his name and called on the man
within to stop shooting and open the door.
For some time there was silence ; then, finally the
door did open, and a man stood there with a candle
in his hand. He was a little old man with a stub of
wiry beard, red grizzled hair, keen eyes like a crumb
of glass, and a body knotted and tawny like a stunted
oak tree. He wore a sort of cap with a broad fur
collar fastened with big brass wolf-head clasps. And
I knew him. He was the old country doctor, Storm,
who had come into the hills, f rom God knows where.
He lived not far away, and as a child, I feared him.
I feared the flappings of his cape on some windy
ridge, for he walked the country in his practice, and
only rode when the distances were great. No one
knew his history, and about him the negroes had
conjured up every sort of fancy. These notions took
a sort of form. Storm was a rival of the Devil
and jousted with him for the lives of men and
beasts. He would work on a horse, snapping his
jaws and muttering his strange oaths, as long and
as patiently as upon the body of a man. And surely,
if one stood and watched him, one would presently
believe that Storm contended with something for its
prey. I can see him now, standing in the door with
the candle held high up so he could peer into the
He cried out when he saw Abner.
"Come in," he said, "by the Eternal, you are wel-
"Storm I" said Abner, "you in this house!' 1
"And why not?" replied the man. "I walk and
am overtaken by a snow; and you ride and do not
He laughed, showing his twisted, yellow teeth,
and turned about in the doorway, and we followed
him into the house. There was a fire burning on the
hearth and another candle guttering on the table.
It was a hall that the door led into— the conven-
tional hall of the great old Southern manor house,
wide mahogany doors on either side stood closed in
their white frames, a white stairway going up to a
broad landing, and a huge fireplace with brass and-
irons. The place was warm, but musty. It had long
been stripped and gutted. It was hung with cob-
webs and powdered down with dust. There was
a small portmanteau on the table, such as one's
father used to carry, of black leather with little
flaps and buddies. And beside it a blue iron stone
jug and a dirty tumbler.
The man set down the candle and indicated the
jug and the fireplace with a queer, ironical gesture.
"I offer you the hospitality of the cup and the
hearth, Abner," he said.
"We will take the hearth, Storm," replied Abner,
"if you please."
And we went over to the fireplace, took off our
great coats, beat out the wet snow, and sat down
on the old mahogany settle by the andirons.
"Every man to the desire of his heart and the
custom of his life," said Storm.
He took up the jug, turned it on end, and drained
its contents into the glass. There was only a little
of the liquor left. It was brewed from apples, raw
and fiery, and the odor of it filled the place. Then
he held up the glass, watching the firelight play in
the white-blue liquor.
"You fill the mind with phantoms," he said, turn-
ing the glass about as though it held some curious
drug. "We swallow you and see things that are
not, and dead men from their graves."
He toyed with the glass, put it on the table, and
"Abner," he said, "I know the body of a man
down to the fiber of his bones; but the mind — it is
a land of mystery. We dare not trust it." He
paused and rapped the table with his callous fingers.
"Against another we may be secure, but against
himself what one of us is safe ? A man may have
no fear of your Hebrew God, Abner, or your Assy-
rian Devil, and yet, his own mind may turn against
him and fill him full of terror. ... A man may kill
his enemy in secret and hide him, and return to his
house secure — and find the dead man sitting in his
chair with the wet blood on him. And with all his
philosophies he cannot eject that phantom from its
seat. He will say this thing does not exist. But
what avails the word when the thing is there !"
He got on his feet and leaned over the table with
his crooked fingers out before him.
I was afraid and I drew closer to my uncle. This
strange old man, straining over the table, peering
into the shadows, held me with a gripping fascina-
tion. His wiry, faded red hair seemed to rise on
his scalp, and I looked to see some horror in its
grave clothes appear before him.
Abner turned his stern face upon him. It was
some time before he spoke.
"Storm," he said, "what do you fear?"
"Fear!" cried the old man, his voice rising in a
sharp staccato; and he made a gesture outward
with his hand.
"You fear your God, Abner, and I fear myself !"
But there was something in Abner's voice and in
this query launched at him that changed the man as
by some sorcery. He sat down, fingered the glass
of liquor, and looked at Abner closely. He did not
speak for some time. He appeared to be turning
some problem slowly in his mind. There was a
lot of mystery here to clear up. We had discov-
ered him by chance, and surely he had received us
in the strangest manner. His explanation could not
be true that he had come into the house before us
on this night, for the house was warm, and it could
npt have been heated in that time. What was the
creature's secret? Why was he here, and who be-
sieged him. These were things which he must fear
to have known, and yet, he was glad to see us, glad
to find us there in the snow, instead of another whom
he feared to find there. And yet, we disturbed him,
and he was uncertain what to do. He sat beyond
the table, and I could see his eyes run over us, and
wander off about the hall and return and glance at
the black portmanteau.
And while he hung there between his plans, Abner
"Storm," he said, "what does all this mean?' 1
The old man looked about him swiftly, furtively,
I thought; then he spoke in a voice so low that we
could hardly hear him.
"Let me put it this way, Abner," he said: "One
comes here, as you come; he is met as you are met;
well, what happens from all this ? . . . A suspicion
enters the visitor's mind. There is peril to the host
in that, and he is put to an alternative. He must
explain or he must shoot the guest. . . . Well, he
chooses to make his explanation first, and if that
fail, there is the other I
" 'And, 1 he says, 'you have done me a service to
come in ; I am glad to see you.* And you say, * What
do you fear?' He answers, Jobbers. 1 You say,
*What have you in this house to lose?' And he
tells you this:
"Michael Dale owned this house. He was rich.
When he was dying he sat here by this hearth, tap-
ping the bricks with his cane, and peering at his
worthless son. You remember that son, Abner;
he looked like the Jupiter of Elis before the Devil
got him. 'Wellington,' he said, 'I am leaving you
a treasure here.' He had been speaking of this
estate, and one thought he meant the lands, and so
gave the thing no notice. But later one remembered
that expression and began to think it over. One
recalled where it was that Michael Dale sat and the
tapping of his stick. Well, when one is going down,
any straw is worth the clutching. One slips into this
house and looks."
He indicated the brick hearth with a gesture.
"No, it is not there now. The gold is in that
He arose, opened the bag, and fumbled in it.
Then he came to us with some pieces in his hand.
Abner took the gold and examined it carefully
by the firelight. They were old pieces, and he rubbed
them between his fingers and scraped something
from their faces with his thumb-nail. Then he
handed them back, and Storm cast them into the
portmanteau and buckled it together. Then he sat
down and drew the stone jug over beside him.
"Now, Abner," he said, "there is this evil about a
treasure. It fills one full of fear. You must stand
guard over it, and the thing gets on your nerves.
The wind in the chimney is a voice, and every noise
a footstep. At first one goes about with the weapon
in his hand, and then, when he can bear it no more,
he shoots at every sound."
Abner did not move, and I listened to the man as
to a tale of Bagdad. Every mystery was now cleared
up — his presence in this house, his fear, the bullet
holes, and why he was glad to see us, and yet dis-
turbed that we had come. And I saw what he had
been turning in his mind — whether he should trust
us with the truth or leave us to our own conclusions.
I understood and verified in myself every detail of
this story. I should have acted as he did at every
step, and I could realize this fear, and how, as the
thing possessed him, one might come at last to shoot
up the shadows. I looked at the man with a sort
Abner had been stroking his bronze face with his
great sinewy hand, and now he spoke.
"Storm," he said, "Michael Dale's riddle is not
the only one that has been read." And he told of
Christian Lance's death, and the Delphic sentence
that had doubtless caused it. "You knew old Chris-
tian, Storm, and his curious life?"
"I did," replied Storm, "and I knew the man who
carried off the knob of the andiron. But how do
you say that any man read his riddle, Abner, and
how do you know that there was any riddle in it?
I took the thing to be an idle taunt"
"And so did Randolph," said Abner, "but you
were both wrong. The secret was in that scrawled
sentence, and some one guessed it."
"How do you know that, Abner?" said Storm.
Abner did not reply directly to the point.
"Old Christian loved money," he went on. "He
would have died before he told where it was hidden.
And his straining toward the door, as though in
death he would follow one who had gone out there,
meant that his secret had been divined, and that his
gold had gone that way."
"You ride to a conclusion on straws, Abner," said
Storm, "if that is all the proof you have."
"Well," replied Abner, "I have also a theory."
"And what is your theory?" said Storm.
"It is this," continued Abner; "when old Chris-
tian wrote, 'Why don't you look in the cow/ he
meant a certain thing. There was a row of tallow
cakes on a shelf. My theory is that each year when
he got the gold from his cattle, he molded it into
one of these tallow cakes, turned it out of the crock,
and put it on the shelif. And there, in the heart
of these tallow cakes, was the old man's treasure I"
"But you tell me that the cakes were there on
this shelf when you found old Christian," said
"They were," replied Abner.
"Every one of them," said Storm.
"Every one of them," answered Abner.
"Had any one of them been cut or broken?"
"Not one of them; they were smooth and per-
"Then your first conclusion goes to pieces, Abner.
No man carried Christian's money through the
door; it is there on the shelf."
"No," said Abner, "it is not there. The man
who killed old Christian Lance got the gold out of
those cakes of tallow."
"And, now, Abner," cried the man, "the bottom
of your theory falls. How could one get the gold
out of these cakes, and leave them perfect?"
"I will tell you that," replied Abner. "There was
a kettle on the crane and a crock beside the hearth,
and every cake of tallow on the shelf was white. . .
They had been remolded! Randolph did not see
that, but I did."
Storm got on his feet.
"Then you do not believe this explanation, Abner
— that the gold comes from the hearth?"
"I do not," replied Abner, and his voice was deep
and level. "There is tallow on these coins!"
I saw Abner glance at the iron poker and watch
But the old man did not draw his weapon. He
laughed noiselessly, twisting his crooked mouth.
"You are right, Abner," he said, "it is Christian's
gold, and this tale a lie. But you are wrong in
your conclusion. Lance was not killed by a little
man like I am ; he was killed by a big man like you !"
He paused and leaned over, resting his hands on
"The man who killed him did not guess that rid-
dle, Abner. . . . Put the evidences together. . . .
Lance was tied into his chair before the assassin
y killed him. Why? That was to threaten him with
death unless he told where his gold was hidden.
. . . Well, Lance would not tell that, but the assas-
sin found it out by chance. He stooped to put the
poker into the fire to heat it, and torture Christian.
The cakes of tallow were on a hanging shelf against
the white-washed chimney; as the assassin arose, fce
struck this shelf with his shoulder, and one of the
tallow cakes fell and burst on the hearth. Then he
killed Christian with a blow of the heated poker.
I know that because the hair about the wound was
"You saw a good deal in that house, Abner, but
did you see a crease in the chimney where the shelf
smote it, and the mark of a man's shoulder on the
whitewash? And that shoulder, Abner," he raised
his hand above his head, "it was as high as yours I"
There was silence.
And as the two men looked thus at each other,
there was a sound as of something padding about
the house outside. For a moment I did not under-
stand these sounds, then I realized that the wind
was rising, and clumps of snow falling from the
trees. But to another in that house these sounds
had no such explanation.
Then a thing happened. One of the mahogany
doors entering the hall leaped back, and a man
stood there with a pistol in his hand. And in all
my life I have never seen a creature like him I There
was everything fine and distinguished in his face, but
the face was a ruin. It was a loathsome and hideous
ruin. Made for the occupancy of a god, the man's
body was the dwelling of a devil. I do not mean
a clean and vicious devil, but one low and bestial,
that wallowed and .gorged itself with sins. And
there was another thing in that face that to under-
stand, one must have seen it. There was terror, but
no fear! It was as though the man advanced
against a thing that filled him full of horror, but
he advanced with courage. He had a spirit in him
that saw and knew the aspect and elements of dan-
ger, but it could not be stampeded into flight.
I heard Abner say, "Dale!" like one who pro-
nounces the name of some extraordinary thing. And
I heard Storm say, "Mon dieu I With a teaspoon-
ful of laudanum in him, he walks!"
The creature did not see us; he was listening to
the sounds outside, and he started for the door.
"You there," he bellowed, "again! . . . Damn
you! . . . Well, I'll get you this time. . . . I'll
hunt you to hell!" . . . And his drunken voice rum-
bled off into obscenities and oaths.
He flung the door open and went out. His weapon
thundered, and by it and the drunken shouting, we
could track him. He seemed to move north, as
though lured that way. We stood and listened.
"He goes toward the river," said Abner. "It
is God's will."
Then far off there was a last report of the weapon
and a great bellowing cry that shuddered through
That night over the fire, Storm told us how he
had come in from the snow and found Dale drunk
and fighting the ghost of Christian Lance; how he
listened to his story, and slipped the drug into his
glass, and how he got him hidden, when we came,
on the promise to keep his secret ; and how he had
fenced with Abner, seeing that Abner suspected him.
But it was the failure of his drug that vexed him.
"It would put a brigadier and his horse to sleep
— that much, if it were pure. I shall take ten drops
to-morrow night and see."
Chapter XIII: The Straw Man
IT was a day of early June in Virginia. The
afternoon sun lay warm on the courthouse with
its great plaster pillars; on the tavern with its
two-story porch; on the stretches of green fields be-
yond and the low wooded hill, rimmed by the far-off
mountains like a wall of the world.
It was the first day of the circuit court, which all
the country attended. And on this afternoon, two
men crossed the one thoroughfare that lay through
the county seat, and went up the wide stone steps
into the courthouse.
The two men were in striking contrast. One,
short of stature and beginning to take on the rotun-
dity of age, was dressed with elaborate care, his
great black stock propping up his chin, his linen and
the cloth of his coat immaculate. He wore a huge
carved ring and a bunch of seals attached to his
watch-fob. The other was a big, broad-shouldered,
deep-chested Saxon, with all those marked character-
istics of a race living out of doors and hardened by
wind and sun. His powerful frame carried no
ounce of surplus weight. It was the frame of the
empire builder on the frontier of the empire. The
face reminded one of Cromwell, the craggy features
in repose seemed molded over iron, but the fine
gray eyes had a calm serenity, like remote spaces in
the summer sky. The man's clothes were plain and
somber. And he gave one the impression of things
big and vast.
As the two entered between the plaster pillars, a
tall old man came out from the county clerk's office.
But for his face, he might have been one of a thou-
sand Englishmen in Virginia. There was nothing
in the big, spare figure or the cranial lines of the man
But the face seized you. In it was an unfathom-
able disgust with life, joined, one would say, with a
cruel courage. The hard, bony jaw protruded; bit-
ter lines descended along the planes of the face, and
the eyes circled by red rims were expressionless and
staring, as though, by some abominable negligence
of nature, they were lidless.
The two approached, and the one so elaborately
dressed spoke to the old man.
"How do you do, Northcote Moore?" he said
"You know Abner?"
The old man stopped instantly and stood very
still. He moved the stick in his hand a trifle before
him. Then he spoke in a high-pitched, irascible
"Abner, eh I Well, what the devil is Abner here
The little pompous man clenched his fingers in his
yellow gloves, but his voice showed no annoyance.
"I asked him to have a look at Eastwood Court."
The Straw Man
"Damn the justice of the peace of every county,"
cried the old man, "and you included, Randolph I
You never make an end of anything."
He gave no attention to Abner, who remained
unembarrassed, regarding the impolite old man as
one regards some strange, new, and particularly of-
"Chuck the whole business, Randolph, that's what
I say," the irascible old man continued, "and forget
about it. Who the devil cares? A drooling old
paralytic is snuffed out. Well, he ought to have
gone five and twenty years ago I He couldn't man-
age his estate and he kept me out. I was like to
hang about until I rotted, while the creature played
at Patience, propped up against the table and the
wall. A nigger, on a search for shillings, knocks
him on the head. Shall I hunt the nigger down and
hang him? Damme! I would rather get him a
patent of state lands I"
The face of Randolph was a study in expression.
"But, sir," he said, "there are some things about
this affair that are peculiar — I may say extraordi-
Again the old man stood still. When he spoke
his voice was in a lower note.
"And so," he said, "you have nosed out a new clew
and got Abner over, and we are to have another
He reflected, moving his stick idly before him.
Then he went on in a petulant, persuasive tone.
"Why can't you let sleeping dogs lie? The coun-
try is beginning to forget this affair, and you set
about to stir it up. Shall I always have the thing
clanking at my heels like a ball and chain?"
Then he rang the paved court with the ferrule of
"Damme, man!" he cried. "Has Virginia no
mysteries, that you yap forever on old scents at
Eastwood? What does it matter who did this
thing? It was a public service. Virginia needs a
few men on her lands with a bit of courage. This
state is rotten with old timber. In youth, Duncan
Moore was a fool. In age, he was better dead. Let
there be an end to this, Randolph."
And he turned about and went back into the county
Randolph was a justice of the peace in Virginia.
He looked a moment after the departing figure; then
he spoke to his companion.
"He is here to have the lands of Duncan Moore
transferred on the assessor's book to his own name.
He takes the estate under the Life and Lives statute
of Virginia, that the legislature got up to soften the
rigor of Mr. Jefferson's Statute of Descents.
Under it, this estate with its great English manor
house was devised by the original ancestor to Duncan
Moore for his life, and after him to Northcote
Moore for his life, and at his death to Esdale
Moore. It could have run twenty-one years farther
if the ttrivener had known the statute. Mr. Jef-
The Straw Man
ferson did not entirely decapitate the law of entail."
He. paused and lifted his finger with a curious
"It is a queer family — I think the very queerest in
Virginia. There is something defective about every
one of them. Duncan Moore, the decedent, had
no children. His two brothers died epileptics.
This man, the son of the elder brother, is blind.
And the son of the junior, Mr. Esdale Moore, the
The Justice of the Peace was interrupted. A
little dapper man, sunburned and bareheaded,
dressed like a tailor's print, but with the smart, ag-
gressive air of a well-bred colonial Englishman,
pushed through the crowd and clapped the Justice
on the shoulder.
"What luck, Randolph?" he cried. "I am sure
Abner has run the assassin to cover." And he
bobbed his head to Abner like one whose profession
permits a certain familiarity. "Come along to the
tavern; 'I would listen to your wondrous tales,' as
Homer says it."
He led the way, calling out to a member of the
bar, hailing an acquaintance, and hurling banter
about him in the bluff, hearty fashion which he
imagined to be the correct manner of a man of the
people who is getting on. He was in the strength
and vigor of his race at forty.
"Beastly dull, Randolph," he rattled; "nothing
exciting since the dawn expect old Baron-Vitch's end-
less suit in chancery. But one must sit tight, rain
or shine. The people must know where to find a
lawyer when they want him."
He swung along with a big military stride.
"The life of a lawyer is far from jolly. I should
like to cut it, Randolph, if I had a good shooting
and bit of trout water. Alas, I am poor !" And he
made a dramatic gesture.
One felt that under this froth the man was calling
out the truth. For all his hearty interest in affairs,
the law was merely a sort of game. It was nothing
real. He played to win, and he had chosen his profes-
sion with care and after long reflection, as a breeder
chooses a colt for the Derby, or as an English
family of influence selects a crack regiment for the
heir at Oxford. He cared not one penny what the
laws were or the great policies of Virginia. But he
did care, with an inbred and abiding interest, about
the value of a partridge shooting, or the damming
of a trout stream by the grist mills. These things
were the realities of life, and not the actions at law
or the suits in chancery.
"How does one get a fortune nowadays, Abner?"
he called back across his shoulder, "for I need one
like the devil. Marriage or crime, eh? Crime re-
quires a certain courage, and they say out in the
open that lawyers are decadent. With you and
Randolph on the lookout, I should be afraid to go
in for crime I"
He clapped a passing pant on the back, called him
The Straw Man
Harrison, accused him of having an eye on Congress,
and went on across his shoulder to Abner :
"Marriage, then? Do you know a convenient or-
phan with a golden goose? Pleasure and a certain
gain would be idyllic I The simplest men under-
stand that Do not the writers in Paris tell us that
the French peasant on his marriage night, while em-
bracing his bride with one arm, extends the other
in order to feel the sack that contains her dowry ?"
They were now on the upper floor of the tavern
porch. Mr. Esdale Moore sent a negro for a
dish of tea, after the English fashion.
Then he got a table at the end of the porch, some-
what apart, and the three men sat down.
"And now, Randolph," he said, "what did you
find at Eastwood?"
"I am afraid," replied the Justice of the Peace,
"that we found little new there. The evidence re-
mains, with trifling additions, what it was; but Abner
has arrived at some interesting opinions upon this
"I am sure Abner can clap his hand on the as-
sassin," said the attorney. "Come, sir, let me fill
your cup, and while I stand on one foot, as St.
Augustine used to say, tell me who ejected my uncle,
the venerable Duncan Moore, out of life."
The negro servant had returned with a great
silver pot, and a tray of cups with queer kneeling
purple cows on them.
Abner held out his cup.
"Sir," he said, "one must be very certain, to an-
swer that question." His voice was deep and level,
like some balanced element in nature.
He waited while the man filled the cup; then he
replaced it on the table.
"And, sir," he continued slowly, "I am not yet
He slipped a lump of sugar slowly into the cup.
"It is the Ruler of Events who knows, sir; we
can only conjecture. We cannot see the truth naked
before us as He does; we must grope for it from
one indication to another until we find it."
"But, reason, Abner," interrupted the lawyer,
bustling in his chair; "we have that, and God has
nothing better I"
"Sir," replied Abner, "I cannot think of God de-
pending on a thing so crude as reason. If one
reflects upon it, I think one will immediately see
that reason is a quality exclusively peculiar to the
human mind. It is a thing that God could never,
by any chance, require. Reason is the method by
which those who do not know the truth, step by step,
finally discover it."
He paused and looked out across the table at the
"And so, sir, God knows who in Virginia has a
red hand from this work at Eastwood Court, with-
out assembling the evidence and laboring to deter-
mine whither these signboards point. But Ran-
dolph and I are like children with a puzzle. We
The Straw Man
must get all the pieces first, and then sit down and
laboriously fit them up."
He looked down into his cup, his face in repose
"Ah, sir," he went on, "if one could be certain that
one had always every piece, there would no longer
remain such a thing as a human mystery. Every
event dovetails into every other event that precedes
and follows. With the pieces complete, the truth
could never elude us. But, alas, sir, human intel-
ligence is feeble and easily deludes itself, and the re-
lations and ramifications of events are vast and in-
"Then, sir," said Mr. Esdale Moore, "you do not
believe that the criminal can create a series of false
evidences that will be at all points consistent with
"No man can do it," replied Abner. "For
to do that, one must know everything that goes be-
fore and everything that follows the event which one
is attempting to falsify. And this omniscience only
the intelligence of God can compass. It is impos-
sible for the human mind to manufacture a false
consistency of events except to a very limited extent."
"Then, gentlemen," cried the lawyer, "you can
make me no excuse for leaving this affair a mystery."
"Yes," replied my uncle, "we could make you an
excuse — a valid and sound excuse: the excuse of in-
Mr. Esdale Moore laughed in his big, hearty
"With your reputation, Abner, and that of Squire
Randolph in Virginia, I should refuse to receive it."
"Alas," continued Abner, "we are no better than
other men. A certain experience, some knowledge
of the habits of criminals, and a little skill in observa-
tion are the only advantages we have. If one were
born among us with, let us say, a double equipment
of skull space, no criminal would ever escape him."
"He would laugh at us, Abner," said the Justice.
"He would never cease to laugh," returned my
uncle, "but he would laugh the loudest at the
bungling criminal. To him, the most cunning crime
would be a botch; fabricated events would be con*
spicuous patch-work, and he would see the identity
of the criminal agent in a thousand evidences."
He hesitated a moment; then he added:
"Fortunately for human society, the inconsistency
of false evidence is usually so glaring that any one
of us is able to see it."
"As in Lord William Russell's case," said the
Justice, "where the valet, having killed his master in
such a manner as to create the aspect of suicide,
Inadvertently carried away the knife with which his
victim was supposed to have cut his own throat."
"Precisely," said Abner. "And there is, I think,
in every case something equally inconsistent, if we
only look close enough to find it."
He turned to Mr. Esdale Moore.
The Straw Man
"With a little observation, sir, to ascertain the
evidence, and a little common sense to interpret its
intent, Randolph and I manage to get on."
The lawyer put a leading question.
"What glaring inconsistency did you find at East-
wood?" he said.
Abner looked at Randolph, as though for permis-
sion to go on. The Justice nodded.
"Why, this thing, sir," he answered, "that a secre-
tary that was not locked should be broken open."
"But, Abner," said the lawyer, "who, but myself,
knew that this secretary was not locked? It was
the custom to lock it, although it contained nothing
but my uncle's playing cards. As I told Randolph,
on the day of my uncle's death I put the key down
among the litter of papers inside the secretary, after
I had opened it, and could not find it again, so I
merely closed the lid. But I alone knew this.
Everybody else would imagine the secretary to be
locked as usual."
"Not everybody," continued my uncle. "Re-
flect a moment: To believe the secretary locked on
this night, one must have known that it was locked
on every preceding night. To believe that it was
locked on this night because the lid was closed, one
must have known that it was always locked on every
preceding night when the lid was closed. And fur-
ther, sir, one must have known this custom so well —
one must have been so certain of it — that one knew
it was not worth while to attempt to open the secre-
tary by pulling down the lid on the chance that it
might not be locked, and so, broke it open at once.
"Now, sir," he went on, "does this not exclude
the theory that Duncan Moore was killed by a com-
mon burglar who entered the house for the purpose
of committing a robbery? Such a criminal agent
could not have known this custom. He might have
believed the secretary to be locked, or imagined it
to be, but he could not have known it conclusively.
He could not have been so certain that he would fail
to lay hold of the lid to make sure. One must as-
sume the lowest criminal will act with some degree
"By Jove!" cried the attorney, striking the table,
"I had a feeling that my uncle was not killed by a
common thief! I thought the authorities were not
at the bottom of this thing, and that is why I kept at
Randolph, why I urged him to get you out to East-
"Sir," replied Abner, "I am obliged to you for the
compliment. But your feeling was justified, and
your persistence in this case will, I think, be re-
"Nevertheless, sir, if you will pardon the digres-
sion, permit me to say that your remark interests me
profoundly. Whence, I wonder, came this feeling
that caused you to reject the obvious explanation and
to urge a further and more elaborate inquiry?"
"Now, Abner," returned Mr. Esdale Moore, "I
cannot answer that question. The thing was a kind
The Straw Man
of presentiment. I had a sort of feeling, as we ex-
press it. I cannot say more than that."
"I have had occasion," continued Abner, "to
examine the theory of presentiments, and I find
that we are forced to one of two conclusions : Either
they are of an origin exterior to the individual, of
which we have no reliable proof, or they are founded
upon some knowledge of which the correlation in
the .mind is, for the moment, obscure. That is to
say, a feeling, presentiment, or premonition, may be
a sort of shadow thrown by an unformed conclusion.
"An unconscious or subconscious mental process
produces an impression. We take this impression
to be from behind the stars, when, in fact, it merely
indicates the rational conclusion at which we would
have arrived if we had made a strong, conscious
effort to understand the enigma before us."
He drank a little tea and put the cup back gently
on the table.
"Perhaps, sir, if you had gone forward with the
mental processes that produced your premonition,
you would have worked out the solution of this
mystery. Why, I wonder, did your deductions re-
"That is a question in mental science," replied the
"Is not all science mental?" continued my un-
cle. "Do not men take their facts in a bag to
the philosopher that he may put them together?
Let us reflect a moment, sir: Are not the primitive
emotions — as, for example, fear — in their initial
• stages always subconscious, or, as we say, instinctive?
Thus, a thousand times in the day do not our bodies
draw back from danger of which we are wholly un-
conscious? We do not go forward into these perils,
and we pass on with no realization of their existence.
Can we doubt, sir, that the mind also instinctively
perceives danger at the end of certain mental
processes and does not go forward upon them?"
The lawyer regarded my uncle in a sort of won-
"Abner," he said, "you forget my activities in this
affair. It is I who have kept at Randolph. What
instinctive fear, then, could have mentally re-
strained me ?"
"Why, sir," replied Abner, "the same fear that
instinctively restrained Randolph and myself."
Mr. Esdale Moore looked my uncle in the face.
"What fear?" he said.
"The fear," continued Abner, "of what these de-
ductions lead to."
Abner moved his chair a little nearer to the table
and went on in a lower voice.
"Now, sir, if we exclude the untenable hypothesis
that this crime was committed by an unknown thief,
ffom the motive of robbery, what explanation re-
mains? Let us see: This secretary could have been
broken open only by some one who knew that it was
the custom to keep it locked Who was certain of
The Straw Man
that custom? Obviously, sir, only those in the
household of the aged Duncan Moore."
The face of the lawyer showed a profound in-
terest. He leaned over, put his right elbow on the
table, rested his chin in the trough of the thumb and
finger, and with his other hand, took a box of tobacco
cigarettes from his pocket and began to break it
open. It was one of the elegancies of that day.
Abner went on, "Was it a servant at Eastwood
He paused, and Randolph interrupted.
"On the night of this tragedy," said the Justice of
the Peace, "all the negroes in the household attended
a servants' ball on a neighboring estate. They
went in a body and returned in a body. The aged
Duncan Moore was alive when they left the house,
and dead when they returned."
"But, Randolph," Abner went on, "independent
of this chance event, conclusive in itself — which I
feel is an accident to which we are hardly entitled!
—do not our inferences legitimately indicate a crim-
inal agent other than a servant at Eastwood Court?
"Sane men do not commit violent crimes without
a motive. There was no motive to move any
servant except that of gain, and there was no gain to
be derived from the death of the aged Duncan
Moore, except that to be got from rifling his secre-
tary. But the one who knew so much about this
secretary that he was certain it was locked, would
also have known enough about it to know that it con-
tained nothing of value."
He hesitated and moved the handle of his cup.
"Now, sir," he added, "two persons remain."
The lawyer, fingering the box of cigarettes, broke
it open and presented them to my uncle and Ran*
dolph. He lighted one, and over the table looked
Abner in the face.
"You mean Northcote Moore and myself," he
said in a firm, even voice. "Well, sir, which one
My uncle remained undisturbed.
"Sir," he said, "there was at least a pretense of
consistency in the work of the one who manufactured
the evidences of a burglar. There was a window
open in the north wing at the end of the long, many-
cornered passage that leads through Eastwood Court
to the room in the south wing where the aged Duncan
Moore was killed. Now some one had gone along
that passage, as you pointed out to Randolph when
Eastwood Court was first inspected, because there
were finger-prints on the walls at the turns and
angles. These finger-prints were marked in the
dust on the walls of the passage on the east side, but
on the west side, beginning heaviest near Duncan
Moore's room, the prints were in blood.
"These marks on the wall show that the assassin
did, in fact, enter by this passage and return along
it. But he did not enter by the open window. The
frame, of this window was cemented into the case-
The Straw Man
ment with dust This dust was removed only on
the inside. Moreover, violence had been used to
force it open, and the marks of this violence were all
plainly visible on the inside of the f ram$."
He stopped, remained a moment silent, and then
"This corridor is the usual and customary way —
in fact, the only way leading from the north wing
of Eastwood Court to the south wing. Duncan
Moore alone occupied the south wing. And, sir, on
this night, Northcote Moore and yourself alone oc-
cupied the north wing. You were both equally fa-
miliar with this passage, since you lived in the house,
and used it constantly."
Abner paused and looked at Mr. Esdale Moore.
"Shall I go on, sir?" he said.
"Pray do," replied the lawyer.
Abner continued, in his deep, level voice.
"Now, sir, you will realize why Randolph and I
felt an instinctive fear of the result of these deduc-
tions, and perhaps, sir, why your subconscious conclu-
sions went no further than a premonition."
"But the law of Virginia," put in the Justice, "is
no respecter of persons. If the Governor should
do a murder, his office would not save him from
"It would not," said the lawyer. "Go on,
My uncle moved slightly in his chair.
"If the aged Duncan Moore were removed," he
continued, "Northcote Moore would take the manor-
house and the lands. For Esdale Moore to take
the estate, both the aged Duncan Moore and the
present incumbent must be removed. Only the aged
Duncan Moore was removed. Who was planning
a gain, then, by this criminal act? Esdale Moore
or Northcote Moore?
"Another significant thing: Mr. Esdale Moore
knew this secretary was unlocked on this night;
Northcote Moore did not. Who, then, was the
more likely to break it open as evidence of a pre-
"And, finally, sir, who would grope along this
corridor feeling with his hands for the corners and
angles of the wall, one who could see, or a blind
My uncle stopped and sat back in his chair.
The lawyer leaned over and put both arms on the
"Gentlemen," he said, since he addressed both
Randolph and Abner, "you amaze me I You accuse
the most prominent man. in Virginia."
"Before the law," said the Justice, "all men are
The lawyer turned toward my uncle, as to one
of more consideration.
"While you were making your deductions," he
said, "I had to insist that you go on, for I was myself
included. I was bound to hear you to the end,
although you shocked me at every step. But now,
The Straw Man
I beg you to reflect. Northcote Moore belongs to
an ancient and honorable family. He is old; he is
blind. Surely something can be done to save him."
"Nothing," replied the Justice firmly.
Abner lifted his face, placid, unmoving, like a
"Perhaps," he said.
The two men before him at the table moved with
"Perhaps !" cried the Justice of the Peace. "This
is Virginia 1"
But it was the lawyer who was the more amazed.
He had not moved; he did not move; but his face*
as by some sorcery, became suddenly perplexed.
The tavern was now deserted ; every one had gone
back into the courthouse. The three men were
alone. There was silence except for the noises of
the village and the far-off hum of winged insects in
the air. Mr. Esdale Moore sat facing north along
the upper porch ; Abner opposite ; Randolph looking
eastward toward the courthouse. My uncle did not
go on at once. He reached across the table for
one of the tobacco cigarettes. The lawyer mechan-
ically took up the box with his hand nearest to the
Justice of the Peace and opened the lid with his
thumb and finger. Abner selected one but did not
"Writers on the law," he began, "warn us against
the obvious inference when dealing with the intelli-
gent criminal agent, and for this reason: while the
criminal of the lowest order seeks only to coyer his
identity, and the criminal of the second order to
indicate another rather than himself, the criminal
of the first order, sir, will sometimes undertake a
subtle finesse — a double intention.
"The criminal of the lowest order gives tht au-
thorities no one to suspect. The criminal of the
second order sets up a straw man before his own
door, hoping to mislead the authorities. But the
criminal of the first order sets it before the door of
another, expecting the authorities of the state to
knock it down and take the man behind it.
"Now, sir," — my uncle paused — "looked at from
this quarter, do not our obvious deductions lack a
"If Northcote Moore were hanged for murder,
Esdale Moore would take the manor-house and the
landed estate. Therefore, he might wish Northcote
Moore hanged, just as Northcote Moore might wish
Duncan Moore murdered
"And, if one were deliberately placing a straw
man, would there be any inconsistency in breaking
open a secretary obviously unlocked? The straw,
sir, would be only a trifle more conspicuous I
"And the third deduction" — his gray eyes nar-
rowed, and he spoke slowly: "If one born blind, and
another, were accustomed to go along a passage day
after day; in the dark, who would grope, feeling
his way in the night, step by step, along the angles
The Straw Man
of the wall — the one who could see, or the blind
The amazed Justice struck the table with his
"By the gods," he cried, "not the blind man!
For to the blind man, the passage was always dark!"
The lawyer had not moved, but his face, in its
desperate perplexity, began to sweat. The Justice
swung around upon him, but Abner put out his hand.
U A moment, Randolph," he said. "The human
body is a curious structure. It has two sides, as
though two similar mechanisms were joined with a
central trunk, — the dexter side, or that which is
toward the south when the man is facing the rising
sun, and the sinister side, or that which is toward the
north. These sides are not coequal. One of them
is controlling and dominates the man, and when the
task before him is difficult, it is with this more effi-
cient controlling side that he approaches it.
"Thus, one set on murder and desperately anxious
to make no sound, to make no false step, to strike
no turn or angle, would instinctively follow the side
of the wall that he could feel along with his con-
trolling hand. This passage runs north and south.
The bloody finger-prints are all on the west side of
the wall, the prints in the dust on the east side;
therefore, the assassin followed the east side of the
wall when he set out on his deadly errand, and the
west side when he returned with the blood on him.
"That is to say," and his voice lifted into a
stronger note, "he always followed the left side of
"Why, sir?" And he got on his feet, his voice
ringing, his finger pointing at the sweating, cornered
man. "Because his controlling side was on the left
— because he was left handed!
"And you, sir — I have been watching you "
The pent-up energies of Mr. Esdale Moore
seemed to burst asunder.
"It's a lie!" he cried.
And he lunged at Abner across the table, with his
clenched left hand
CHAPTER XIV: The Mystery of Chance
IT was a night like the pit The rain fell
steadily. Now and then a gust of wind rattled
the shutters, and the tavern sign, painted with
the features of George the Third, now damaged by
musket-balls and with the eyes burned out, creaked
The tavern sat on the bank of the Ohio. Below
lay the river and the long, flat island, where the ill-
starred Blennerhasset had set up his feudal tenure*
Flood water covered the island and spread every-
where — a vast sea of yellow that enveloped the
meadow-lands and plucked at the fringe of the
The scenes in the tavern were in striking contrast.
The place boomed with mirth, shouts of laughter,
ribald tales and songs. The whole crew of the
Eldorado of New Orleans banqueted in the guest-
room of the tavern. This was the open room for
the public. Beyond it and facing the river was the
guest-room for the gentry, with its floor scrubbed
with sand, its high-boy in veneered mahogany, its
polished andirons and its various pretensions to a
hostelry of substance.
At a table in this room, unmindful of the bedlam
beyond him, a man sat reading a pamphlet. He
leaned over on the table, between two tall brass
candlesticks, his elbows on the board, his thumb
marking the page. He had the dress and manner
of a gentleman— excellent cloth in his coat, a rich
stock and imported linen. On the table sat a top
hat of the time, and in the corner by the driftwood
lire was a portmanteau with silver buckles, strapped
up as for a journey. The man was under forty, his
features regular and clean-cut; his dark brows joined
above eyes big and blue and wholly out of place in
the olive skin.
Now and then he got up, went over to the window
and looked out, but he was unable to see anything,
for the rain continued and the puffs of wind. He
seemed disturbed and uneasy. He drummed on die
sill with his fingers, and then, with a glance at his
portmanteau, returned to his chair between the two
big tallow candles.
From time to time the tavern-keeper looked in at
the door with some servile inquiry. This interrup-
tion annoyed the guest.
"Damme, man," he said, "are you forever at the
"Shall I give the crew rum, sir?" the landlord
"No," replied the man; "I will not pay your ex-
tortions for imported liquor."
"They wish it, sir."
The man looked up from his pamphlet.
"They wish it, eh," he said with nice enunciation.
"Well, Mr. Castoe, I do notl"
The Mystery of Chance
The soft voice dwelt on the "Mr. Castoe" with
ironical emphasis. The mobile upper lip, shadowed
with a silken mustache, lifted along the teeth with
a curious feline menace.
The man was hardly over his table before the
door opened again. He turned abruptly, like a
panther, but when he saw who stood in the door, he
arose with a formal courtesy.
"You are a day early, Abner," he said. "Are
the Virginia wagons in for their salt and iron?"
"They will arrive tomorrow," replied my uncle ;
"the roads are washed out with the rains."
The man looked at my uncle, his hat and 4iis great-
coat splashed with mud.
"How did you come?" he asked.
"Along the river," replied my uncle, <# I thought
to find you on the Eldorado."
"On the Eldoradof" cried the man. "On such a
night, when the Tavem of George the Third has a
log fire and kegs in the cellar 1"
My uncle entered, closed the door, took off his
greatcoat and hat, and sat down by the hearth.
"The boat looked deserted," he said.
"To the last nigger," said the man. "I could not
take the comforts of the tavern and deny them to
My uncle warmed his hands over the snapping
"A considerate heart, Byrd," he said, with some
deliberation, "is a fine quality in a man. But how
about the owners of your cargo, and the company
that insures your boat?"
"The cargo, Abner," replied the man, "is in
Benton's warehouse, unloaded for your wagons.
The boat is tied up in the back-water. No log can
He paused and stroked his clean-cut, aristocratic
"The journey down from Fort Pitt was dam-
nable," he added, " — miles of flood water, yellow
and running with an accursed current. It was no
pleasure voyage, believe me, Abner. There was
the current running logs, and when we got in near
the shore, the settlers fired on us. A careless des-
perado, your settler, Abner I"
"More careless, Byrd, do you think," replied my
uncle, "than the river captain who overturns the
half-submerged cabins with the wash of his boat?"
"The river," said the man, "is the steamboat's
"And the cabin," replied my uncle, "is the settler's
"One would think," said Byrd, "that this home
was a palace and the swamp land a garden of the
Hesperides, and your settler a King of the Golden
Mountains. My stacks are full of bullet holes."
My uncle was thoughtful by the fire.
"This thing will run into a river war," he said.
"There will be violence and murder done."
"A war, eh !" echoed the man. "I had not
The Mystery of Chance
thought of that, and yet, I had but now an ultima-
tum. When we swung in to-night, a big backwoods-
man came out in a canoe and delivered an oration.
I have forgotten the periods, Abner, but he would
burn me at the stake, I think, and send the boat to
Satan, unless I dropped down the river and came in
below the settlement."
He paused and stroked his jaw again with that
"But for the creature's command," he added, "I
would have made the detour. But when he threat-
ened, I ran in as I liked and the creature got a duck-
ing for his pains. His canoe went bottom upward,
and if he had not been a man of oak, he would have
gone himself to Satan."
"And what damage did you do?" inquired my
"Why, no damage, as it happened," said the man.
"Some cabins swayed, but not one of them went over.
I looked, Abner, for a skirmish in your war. There
was more than one rifle at a window. If I were
going to follow the river," he continued, "I would
mount a six-pounder."
"You will quit the river, then," remarked my
"It is a dog's life, Abner," said the man. "To
make a gain in these days of Yankee trading, the
owner must travel with his boat. Captains are a
trifle too susceptible to bribe. I do not mean gold-
pieces, slipped into the hand, but the hospitalities of
the shopkeeper. Your Yankee, Abner, sees no dif-
ference in men, or he will waive it for a sixpence in
his till. The captain is banqueted at his house, and
the cargo is put on short. One cannot sit in com-
fort at New Orleans and trade along the Ohio."
"Is one, then, so happy in New Orleans?" asked
"In New Orleans, no," replied the man, "but New
Orleans is not the world. The world is in Picca-
dilly, where one can live among his fellows like a
gentleman, and see something of lifa— a Venetian
dancer, ladies of fashion, and men who dice for
something more than a trader's greasy shillings."
Byrd again got up and went to the window. The
rain and gusts of wind continued. His anxiety
seemed visibly to increase.
My uncle arose and stood with his back to the
driftwood fire, his hands spread out to the flame.
He glanced at Byrd and at the pamphlet on the
table, and the firm muscles of his mouth hardened
into an ironical smile.
"Mr. Evlyn Byrrf," he said, "what do you read?"
The man came back to the table. He sat down
and crossed one elegant knee over the other.
"It is an essay by the Englishman, Mill," he said,
"reprinted in the press that Benjamin Franklin set
up at Philadelphia. I agree with Lord Fairfax
where the estimable Benjamin is concerned: 'Damn
his little maxims I They smack too much of New
The Mystery of Chance
England!' But his press gives now and then an
English thing worth while."
"And why is this English essay worth while?"
asked my uncle.
"Because, Abner, in its ultimate conclusions, it is
a justification of a gentleman's most interesting vice.
'Chance,' Mr. Mill demonstrates, 'is not only at the
end of all our knowledge, but it is also at the be-
ginning of all our postulates. 1 We begin with it,
Abner, and we end with it. The structure of all
our philosophy is laid down on the sills of chance
and roofed over with the rafters of it."
"The Providence of God, then," said my uncle,
"does not come into Mr. Mill's admirable essay."
Mr. Evlyn Byrd laughed.
"It does not, Abner," he said. "Things happen
in this world by chance, and this chance is no aide*
de-camp of your God. It happens unconcernedly to
all men. It has no rogue to rum and no good
churchman, pattering his prayers, to save. A man
lays his plans according to the scope and grasp of
his intelligence, and this chance comes by to help
him or to harm him, as it may happen, with no con-
cern about his little morals, and with no divine
"And so you leave God out," said my uncle, with
"And why not, Abner?" replied the man. "Is
there any place in this scheme of nature for His
intervention? Why, sir, the intelligence of man
that your Scriptures so despise can easily put His
little plan of rewards and punishments out of joint.
Not the good, Abner, but the intelligent, possess the
earth. The man who sees on all sides of his plan,
and hedges it about with wise precaution, brings it
to success. Every day the foresight of men out-
wits your God."
My uncle lifted his chin above his wet stock. He
looked at the window with the night banked behind
it, and then down at the refined and elegant gentle-
man in the chair beside the table, and then at the
strapped-up portmanteau in the corner. His great
jaw moved out under the massive chin. From his
face, from his manner, he seemed about to approach
some business of vital import. Then, suddenly,
from the room beyond there came a great boom of
curses, a cry that the dice had fallen against a platter,
a blow and a gust of obscenities and oaths.
My uncle extended his arm toward the room.
"Your gentleman's vice," he said; "eh, Mr.
The man put out a jeweled hand and snuffed the
"The vice, Abner, but not the gentlemen."
Mr. Byrd flicked a bit of soot from his immacu-
late sleeve. Then he made a careless gesture.
"These beasts," he said, "are the scum of New
Orleans. They would bring any practice into dis-
repute. One cannot illustrate a theory by such
creatures. Gaming, Abner, is the diversion of a
The Mystery of Chance
gentleman ; it depends on chance, even as all trading
does. The Bishop of London has been unable to
point out wherein it is immoral."
"Then," said Abner, "the Bishop does little credit
to his intelligence."
"It has been discussed in the coffee-houses of New
Orleans," replied Mr. Byrd, "and no worthy objec-
"I think I can give you one," replied my uncle.
"And what is your objection, Abner?" asked the
"It has this objection, if no other," replied my
uncle, "it encourages a hope of reward without labor,
and it is this hope, Byrd, that fills the jail house with
weak men, and sets strong ones to dangerous ven-
He looked down at the man before him, and again
his iron jaw moved.
"Byrd," he said, "under the wisdom of God,
labor alone can save the world. It is everywhere
before all benefits that we would enjoy. Every man
must till the earth before he can eat of its fruits. He
must fell the forest and let in the sun before his grain
will ripen. He must spin and weave. And in his
trading he must labor to carry his surplus stuff to for-
eign people, and to bring back what he needs from
their abundance. Labor is the great condition of re-
ward. And your gentleman's vice, Byrd, would an-
nul it and overturn the world."
But the man was not listening to Abner's words.
He was on his feet and again before the window.
He had his jaw gathered into his hand. The man
"What disturbs you, Byrd?" said my uncle.
He stood unmoving before the fire, his hands to
The man turned quickly.
"It is the night, Abner — wind and driring rain.
The devil has it!"
"The weather, Byrd," replied my uncle, "happens
in your philosophy by chance, so be content with
what it brings you, for this chance regards, as you
teH me, no man's plans; neither the wise man nor
the fool hath any favor of it."
"Nor the just nor the unjust, Abner."
My uncle looked down at the floor. He locked
his great bronze fingers behind his massive back.
"And so you believe, Byrd," he said. "Well, I
take issue with you. I think this thing you call
•chance* is the* Providence of God, and I think it
favors the just."
"Abner," cried the man, now turning from the
window, "if you believe that, you believe it without
"Why, no," replied my uncle; "I have got the
proof on this very night."
He paused a moment; then he went on.
"I was riding with the Virginia wagons," he said,
"on the journey here. It was my plan to come on
slowly with them, arriving on the morrow. But
The Mystery of Chance
these rains fell; the road on this side of the Hills
was heavy; and I determined to leave the wagons
and ride in to-night.
"Now, call this what you like — this unforeseen
condition of the road, this change of plan. Call it
Again he paused and his big jaw tightened.
"But it is no chance, sir, nor any accidental hap-
pening that Madison of Virginia, Simon Carroll of
Maryland and my brother Rufus are upright men,
honorable in their dealings and fair before the
"Now, sir, if this chance, this chance of my com-
ing on to-night before the Virginia wagons, this acci-
dental happening, favored Madison, Simon Carroll
and my brother Rufus as though with a direct and
obvious intent, as though with a clear and precon-
ceived design, you will allow it to me as a proof, or,
at least, Mr. Evlyn Byrd, as a bit of evidence, as
a sort of indisputable sign, that honorable men, men
who deal fairly with their fellows, have some favor
of these inscrutable events."
The man was listening now with a careful atten-
tion. He came away from the window and stood
beside the table, his clenched fingers resting on the
"What do you drive at, Abner?" he asked.
My uncle lifted his chin above the big wet stock.
"A proof of my contention, Byrd," he answered.
"But your story, Abner? What happened?"
My uncle looked down at the man.
"There is no hurry, Byrd," he said; "the night is
but half advanced and you will not now go forward
on your journey."
"My journey 1" echoed the man. "What do you
"Why, this," replied my uncle: "that you would
be setting out for Piccadilly, I imagine, and the danc-
ing women, and the gentlemen who live by chance.
But as you do not go now, we have ample leisure
for our talk."
"Abner," cried Mr. Byrd, "what is this riddle?"
My uncle moved a little in his place before the
"I left the Virginia wagons at midday," he went
on; "night fell in the flat land; I could hardly get
on; the mud was deep and the rains blew. The
whole world was like the pit.
"It is a common belief that a horse can see on
any night, however dark, but this belief is error, like
that which attributes supernatural perception to the
beast. My horse went into the trees and the fence;
now and then there was a candle in a window, but
it did not lighten the world; it served only to accen-
tuate the darkness. It seemed impossible to go
forward on a strange road, now flooded. I thought
more than once to stop in at some settler's cabin.
But mark you, Byrd, I came on. Why? I cannot
say. 'Chance/ Mr. Evlyn Byrd, if you 4ikc. I
would call it otherwise. But no matter."
The Mystery of Chance
He paused a moment, and then continued:
"I came in by the river. It was all dark like the
kingdom of Satan. Then, suddenly, I saw a light
and your boat tied up. This light seemed some-
where inside, and its flame puzzled me. I got down
from my horse and went onto the steamboat. I
found no one, but I found the light. It was a fire
just gathering under way. A carpenter had been
at work; he had left some shavings and bits of
candle, and in this line of rubbish the fire had
The man sat down in his chair beside the two
"Fire I" he said. "Yes, there was a carpenter at
work in my office cabin to-day. He left shavings,
and perhaps bits of candle, it is likely. Was it in
my office cabin?"
"Along the floor there," replied my uncle, "be-
ginning to flame up.' 9
"Along the floor!" repeated Mr. Byrd. "Then
nothing in my cabin was burned? The wall desk,
Abner, with the long mahogany drawer — it was not
He spoke with an eager interest.
"It was not burned," replied my uncle. "Did it
contain things of value?"
"Of great value," returned the man.
"You leave, then, things of value strangely un-
protected," replied my uncle. "The door was
"But not the desk, Abner. It was securely
locked. I had that lock from Sheffield No key
would turn it but my own.'*
Byrd sat for some moments unmoving, his deli-
cate hand fingering his chin, his lips parted. Then,
as with an effort, he got back his genial manner.
"I thank you, Abner," he said. "You hav*
saved my boat. And it was a strange coincidence
that brought you there to do it"
Then he flung back in his big chair with a laugh.
"But your theory, Abner? This chance event
does not support it. It is not the good or Christian
that this coincidence has benefited. It is I, Abner,
who am neither good nor Christian."
My uncle did not reply. His face remained set
The rain beat on the window-pane, and the
drunken feast went on in the room beyond him.
"Byrd," he said, "how do you think that fire was
set? A half-burned cigar dropped by a careless
hand, or an enemy?"
"An enemy, Abner," replied the man. "It will
be the work of these damned settlers. Did not their
envoy threaten if I should come in, to the peril of
their cabins? I gave them no concern then, but I
was wrong in that. I should have looked out for
their venom. Still, they threaten with such ease
and with no hand behind it that one comes, in time,
to take no notice of their words,"
The Mystery of Chance
He paused and looked up at the big man above
"What do you think, Abner? Was the fire set?"
"One cannot tell from the burning rubbish," re-
plied my uncle.
"But your opinion, Abner?" said the man.
"What is your opinion?"
"The fire was set," replied my uncle.
Byrd got up at that, and his clenched hand
crashed on the table.
"Then, by the kingdom of Satan, I will overturn
every settler's cabin when the boat goes out to-
My uncle gave no attention to the man's violence.
"You would do wanton injury to innocent men,"
he said. "The settlers did not fire your boat."
"How can you know that, Abner?"
My uncle changed. Vigor and energy and an
iron will got into his body and his face.
"Byrd," he said, "we had an argument just now;
let me recall it to your attention. You said 'chance'
happened equally to all, and I that the Providence
of God directs it. If I had failed to come on to-
night, the boat would have burned. The settlers
would have taken blame for it. And Madison of
Virginia, Simon Carroll of Maryland and my
brother Rufus, whose company at Baltimore insure
your boat, would have met a loss they can ill afford."
His voice was hard and level like a sheet of light.
"Not you, Byrd, who, as you tell me, are neither
good nor Christian, but these men, who are, would
have settled for this loss. Is it the truth — eh, Mr*
The man's big blue eyes widened in his olive skin.
"I should have claimed the insurance, of course,
as I had the right to do," he said coldly, for he was
not in fear. "But, Abneri "
"Precisely 1" replied my uncle. "And now, Mr.
Evlyn Byrd, let us go on. We had a further argu-
ment. You thought a man in his intelligence could *
outwit God. And, sir, you undertook to do itl
With your crew drunken here, the boat deserted, the
settlers to bear suspicion and your portmanteau
packed up for your journey overland to Baltimore,
you watched at that window to see the flames burst
The man's blue eyes — strange, incredible eyes in
that olive skin — were now hard and expressionless
as glass. His lips moved, and his hand crept up
toward a bulging pocket of his satin waistcoat.
Grim, hard as iron, inevitable, my uncle went on:
"But you failed, Byrd! God outwitted you!
When I put that fire out in the rubbish, the cabin was
dark, and in the dark, Byrd, there, I saw a gleam of
light shining through the keyhole of your wall desk
— the desk that you alone can open, that you keep so
securely locked. Three bits of candle were burning
in that empty drawer."
The man's white hand approached the bulging
The Mystery of Chance
And my uncle's voice rang as over a plate of steel.
"Outwit God!" he cried. "Why, Byrd, you ha J
forgotten a thing that any* schoolboy could have
told you. You had forgotten that a bit of candle
in a drawer, for lack of air, burns more slowly than
a bit outside. Your pieces set to fire the rubbish
were consumed, but your pieces set in that locked
drawer to make sure — to outwit God, if, by chance,
the others failed — were burning when I burst the lid
The man's nimble hand, lithe like a snake,
whipped a derringer out of his bulging pocket.
But, quicker than that motion, quicker than light,
quicker than the eye, my uncle was upon him. The
derringer fell harmless to the floor. The bones of
the man's slender fingers snapped in an iron palm.
And my uncle's voice, big, echoing like a trumpet^
rang above the storm and the drunken shouting:
"Outwit God 1 Why, Mr. Evlyn Byrd, you can-
not outwit me, who am the feeblest of His crea-
CHAPTER XV: The Concealed Path
IT was night, and the first snow of October was
in the air when my uncle got down from his
horse before the door. The great stone house
sat on a bench of the mountains. Behind it lay the
forest, and below, the pasture land of the Hills.
After the disastrous failure of Prince Charles
Edward Stuart to set up his kingdom in Scotland,
more than one great Highland family had fled over-
sea into Virginia, and for a hundred years had main-
tained its customs. It was at the house of such a
family that my uncle stopped.
There was the evidence of travel hard and long
on my uncle and his horse. An old man bade him
"Who is here?" said my uncle.
The servant replied with two foreign words,
meaning "The Red Eagle" in the Gaelic tongue.
And he led my uncle through the hall into the
dining-room. It was a scene laid back a hundred
years in Skye that he came on. A big woman of
middle age dined alone, in a long, beamed room,
lighted with tallow candles. An ancient servant
stood behind her chair.
Two features of the woman were conspicuous —
lier bowed nose and her coarse red hair.
The Concealed Path
She got up when she saw my uncle.
"Abner," she cried, "by the Blessed God I am
glad to see you! Come in I Come in!"
My uncle entered, and she put him beyond her
at the table.
"You ought to cat, Abner," she said; "for by all
the tokens, you have traveled."
"A long way," replied my uncle.
"And did the ravens of Elijah send you to me?"
said the woman. "For I need you."
"What need?" inquired my uncle, while he at-
tacked the rib of beef and the baked potatoes, for
the dinner, although set with some formality, was
"Why, this need, Abner: For a witness whose
name will stand against the world."
"A' witness 1" repeated my uncle.
"Aye, a witness," continued the woman. "The
country holds me hard and dour, and given to im-
pose my will. There will be a wedding in my house
to-night, and I would have you see it, free of prcs*
sure. My niece, Margaret McDonald, has got her
My uncle looked down at the cloth.
"Who is the man?" he said.
"Campbell," she answered, "and good man
enough for a stupid woman."
For a moment my uncle did not move. His
hands, his body, the very muscles in his eyelids, were
ipv that moment inert as plaster. Then he went
on with the potato and the rib of beef.
"Campbell is here, then?" he said.
"He came to-night," replied the woman, "and for
once the creature has some spirit. He will have
the girl to-night or never. He and my husband
Allen Eliott, have driven their cattle out of the
glades and on the way to Baltimore. Allen is with
the cattle on the Cumberland road, and Campbell
rode hard in here to take the girl or to leave her.
And whether she goes or stays, he will not return.
When the cattle are sold in Baltimore, he will take
a ship out of the Chesapeake for Glasgow."
She paused and made a derisive gesture.
"The devil, Abner, or some witch trick, has made
a man of Campbell. He used to be irresolute and
sullen, but to-night he has the spirit of the men who
lifted cattle in the lowlands. He is a Campbell
of Glen Lion on this night. Believe me, Abner, the
wavering beastie is now as hard as oak, and has the
devil's courage. Wherefore is it that a man can
change like that?"
"A man may hesitate between two masters," re-
plied my uncle, "and be only weak, but when he
finally makes his choice he will get what his master
has to give him — the courage of heaven, if he go
that way, or of hell, Madam, if he go that way."
"Man! Man!" she laughed. "If 'the one who
is not to be named,' as we say, put his spirit into
Campbell, he did a grand work. It is the wild old
The Concealed Path
cattle-lifter of Glen Lion that he is the night !"
"Do you think," said my uncle, "that a McDon-
ald of Glencoe ought to be mated with a Campbell
of Glen Lion?"
The woman's face hardened.
"Did Lord Stair and the Campbells of Glen Lion
massacre the McDonalds of Glencoe on yesterday
at sunrise, or two hundred years back? Margaret
— the fool! — said that before she got my final
"Is it not in an adage," said my uncle, "that the
Highlander does not change?"
"But the world changes, Abner," replied the
woman. "Campbell is not 'Bonnie Charlie'; he
is at middle age, a dour man and silent, but he will
have a sum of money from a half of the cattle*
and he c^n take care of this girl."
Then she cried out in a sharper voice :
"And what is here in this mountain for her, will
you tell me? We grow poor! The old men are
to feed. Allen owes money that his half of the
cattle will hardly pay. Even old MacPherson"
— and she indicated the ancient man behind her
chair — "has tried to tell her, in his wise-wife fol-
derol, 4 I see you in the direst peril that overtakes;
a lassie, and a big shouldered man to save you/
And it was no omen, Abner, but the vision of his
common sense. Here are the lean years to dry out
the fool's youth, and surely Campbell is big shoul-
dered enough for any prophecy. And now, Abner,
will you stay and be a witness?"
"I will be one witness," replied my uncle slowly,
"if you will send for my brother Rufus to be an-
The woman looked at her guest in wonder.
"That would be twenty miles through the Hills,"
she said. "We could not get Rufus by the morn's
"No," said Abner, "it would be three miles to
Maxwell's Tavern. Rufus is there to-night."
The big-nosed, red-haired woman drummed on
the cloth with the tips of her fingers, and one knew
what she was thinking. Her relentless will was
the common talk. What she wished she forced
with no concern.
But the girl was afraid of Campbell. The man
seemed evil to her. It was not evidenced in any
act It was instinct in the girl. She felt the nature
of the man like some venomous thing pretending
to be gentle until its hour. And this fear, dominant
and compelling, gave her courage to resist the wom-
The long suit of Campbell for the girl was known
to everybody, and the woman's favor of it and the
girl's resistance. The woman foresaw what folk
in the Hills would say, and she wished to forestall
that gossip by the presence in her house of men
whose word could not be gainsaid. If Abner and
The Concealed Path
his brother Rufus were here, no report of pressure
on the girl could gain belief.
She knew what repdrts her dominating person-
ality set current. She, and not hef husband, was
the head of their affairs, and with an iron deter-
mination she held to every Highland custom, every
form, every feudal detail that she could, against the
detritus of democratic times and ridicule, and the
gain upon her house of poverty,, and lean years*
She was alone at that heavy labor. Allen Eliott
was a person without force. He was usually on
his cattle range in the mountains, with his big part-
ner Campbell, or in the great drive, as now, to
Baltimore. And she had the world to face.
"That will be to wait," she said, "and Camp-
bell is in haste, and the bride is being made ready
by the women, and the minister is got ... to Max-
well's Tavern I"
Then she arose.
"Well, I will make a bargain with you. I will
send for Rufus, but you must gain Campbell over
to the waiting. And you must gain him, Abner, by
your own devices, for I will not tell him that I have
sent out for a witness to the freedom of my niece
in this affair. If you can make him wait, the thing
shall wait until Rufus is come. But I will turn no
hand to help."
"Is Campbell in the house?" said my uncle.
"Yes," she said, "and ready when the minister
"Is he alone?" said Abncr.
"Alone," she said, with a satirical smile, "as a
bridegroom ought to be for his last reflections."
"Then," replied my uncle, "I will strike the bar-
She laughed in a heavy chuckle, like a man.
"Hold him if you can. It will be a pretty under-
taking, Abner, and practice for your wits. But by
stealth it shall be. I will not have you bind the
bridegroom- like the strong man in the Scriptures."
And the chuckle deepened. "And that, too, I think,
might be no easier than the finesse you set at. He
is a great man in the body, like yoursel'."
She stood up to go out, but before she went, she
said another word.
"Abner," she said, "you will not blame me," and
her voice was calm. "Somebody must think a little
for these pretty fools. They are like the lilies of
the field in their lack of wisdom; they will always
bloom, and there is no winter! Why, man, they
have no more brain than a haggis ! And what are
their little loves against the realities of life? And
their tears, Abner, are like the rains in summer,
showering from every cloud. And their heads cram-
med with folderol — a prince will come, and they
cannot take a good man for that dream I" She
paused and added:
"I will go and send for Rufus. And when you
have finished with your dinner, MacPherson will
take you in to Campbell."
The Concealed Path
The woman was hardly gone before the old man
slipped over to Abner's chair.
"Mon," he whispered, "ha'e ye a web drop?"
"No liquor, MacPherson," said my uncle.
The old man's bleared eyes blinked like a half-
"It would be gran', a wee drop, the night," he
"For joy at the wedding," said my uncle.
"Na, mon, na, mon!" Then he looked swiftly
"The eagle ha beak and talons, and what ha the
"What do you mean, MacPherson?" said my
The old creature peered across the table.
"Ye ha gran' shoulders, mon," he said.
My uncle put down his fork.
"MacPherson," he said, "what do you beat
"I wa borned," he replied, "wi a cowl, and I
can see !"
"And what do you see?" inquired Abner.
"A vulture flying," said the old man, "but it
is unco dark beneath him."
Again on this night every motion and every sign
of motion disappeared from my uncle's body and
his face. He remained for a moment like a figure
cut in wood.
"A vulture !" he echoed.
"Aye, mon 1 What ha the dove to save it?"
"The vulture, it may be," said my uncle.
"The Red Eagle, and the foul vulture 1" cried
the old man. "Noo, mon, it is the bird of death 1"
"A bird of death, but not a bird of prey." Then
he got up.
"You may have a familiar spirit, MacPherson,"
he said coldly, "for all I know. Perhaps they live
on after the Witch of Endor. It is a world of
mystery. But I should not come to you to get up
Samuel, and I see now why the Lord stamped out
your 'practice. It was because you misled his peo-
ple. If there is a vulture in this business, MacPher-
son, it is no symbol of your bridegroom. And now,
will you take me in to Campbell?"
The old man flung the door open, and Abner
went out into the hall. As he crossed the sill, a
girl, listening at the door, fled past him. She had
been crouched down against it.
She was half-dressed, all in white, as though es-
caped for a moment out of the hands of tiring wom-
en. But she had the chalk face of a ghost, and eyes
wide with fear.
My uncle went on as though he had passed noth-
ing, and the old Scotchman before him only wagged
his head, with the whispered comment, "It wa be
gran', a wee drop, the night."
They came into a big room of the house with
candles on a table, and a Are of chestnut logs. A
The Concealed Path
man walking about stopped on the hearth. He
was a huge figure of a man in middle life.
A fierce light leaped up in his face when he saw
"Abner I" he cried. "Why does the devil bring
"It would be strange, Campbell," replied my un-
cle, "if the devil were against you. The devil has
been much maligned. He is very nearly equal, the
Scriptures tell us, to the King of Kings. He is no
fool to mislead his people and to trap his servants.
I find him always zealous in their interests, Camp-
bell, fertile in devices, and holding hard with every
trick to save them. I do not admire the devil, Mr.
Campbell, but I do not find his vice to be a lack
of interest in his own." l * T
"Then," cried Campbell, "it is clear that I am
not one of his own. For if the devil were on my
side, Abner, he would have turned you away from
this door to-night."
"Why, no," replied my uncle, with a reflective air,
"that does not follow. I do not grant the devil
a supreme control. There is One above him, and if
he cannot always manage as his people wish, they
should not for that reason condemn him with a
The man turned with a decisive gesture.
"Abner," he said, "let me understand this thing.
Do you come here upon some idle gossip, to inter-
fere with me in this marriage? Or by chance?"
"Neither the one nor the other," replied my uncle.
"I went into the mountains to buy the cattle you
and Eliott range there. I found you gone already,
with the herd, toward Maryland. And so, as I
returned, I rode in here to Eliott's house to rest
and to feed my horse."
"Eliott is with the drove," said Campbell.
"No," replied my uncle, "Eliott is not with the
drove. I overtook it on the Cheat River. The
drivers said you hired them this morning, and rode
The man shifted his feet and looked down at
"It is late in the season," he said. "One must go
ahead to arrange for a field and for some shocks
of fodder. Eliott is ahead."
"He is not on the road ahead," returned Abner.
"Arnold and his drovers came that way from Mary-
land, and they had not seen him."
"He did not go the road," said Campbell; "he
took a path through the mountains."
My uncle remained silent for some moments.
"Campbell," said my uncle, "the Scriptures tell
us that there is a path which the vulture's eye hath
not seen. Did Eliott take that path?"
The man changed his posture.
"Now, Abner," he said, "I cannot answer a fool
thing like that."
"Well, Campbell," replied my uncle, "I can an-
swer it for you : Eliott did not take that path."
The Concealed Path
The man took out a big silver watch and opened
the case with his thumb-nail.
"The woman ought to be ready," he said.
My uncle looked up at him.
"Campbell," he said, "put off this marriage."
The man turned about.
"Why should I put it off?" he said.
"Well, for one reason, Campbell," replied my
uncle, "the omens are not propitious."
"I do not believe in signs," said the man.
"The Scriptures are full of signs," returned Ab-
ner. "There was the sign to Joshua and the sign
to Ahaz, and there is the sign to you."
The man turned with an oath.
"What accursed thing do you hint about, Abner?"
"Campbell," replied my uncle, "I accept the
word; accursed is the word."
"Say the thing out plain! What omen? What
"Why, this sign," replied Abner: "MacPherson,
who was born with a cowl, has seen a vulture fly-
"Damme, man !" cried Campbell. "Do you hang
on such a piece of foolery. MacPherson sees his
visions in a tin cup — raw corn liquor would set fly-
ing beasts of Patmos. Do you tell me, Abner, that
you believe in what MacPherson sees?"
"I believe in what I see myself," replied my uncle.
"And what have you seen?" said the man.
"I have seen the vulture I" replied my uncle. "And
I was born clean and have no taste for liquor."
"Abner," said Campbell, "you move about in the
dark, and I have no time to grope after you. The
woman should be ready."
"But are you ready?" said my uncle.
"Manl Manl" cried Campbell. "Will you be
forever in a fog? Well, travel on to Satan in it!
I am ready, and here are the women!"
But it was not the bride. It was MacPherson to
inquire if the bride should come.
My uncfe got ut> then.
"Campbell," h/ said, in his deep, level voice, "if
the bride is ready, you arc not."
The man was at the limit of forbearance.
"The devil take you!" he cried. "If you mean
anything, say what it is !"
"Campbell," replied my uncle, "it is the custom
to inquire if any man knows a reason why a mar-
riage should not go on. Shall I stand up before
the company and give the reason, while the marriage
waits? Or shall I give it to you here while the
The man divined something behind my uncle's
"Bid them wait," he said to MacPherson.
Then he closed the door and turned back on my
uncle — his shoulders thrown forward, his fingers
clenched, his words prefaced by an oath.
"Now, sir," — and the oath returned,— "what is
The Concealed Path
My uncle got up, took something from his pocket,
and put it down on the table. It was a piece of lint,
twisted together, as though one had rolled it firmly
between the palms of one's hands.
"Campbell," he said, "as I rode the trail on your
cattle range, in the mountains, this morning, a bit
of white thing caught my eye. I got down and
picked up this fragment of lint on the hard ground.
It puzzled me. How came it thus rolled? I began
to search the ground, riding slowly in an ever-widen-
ing circle. Presently I found a second bit, and then
a third, rolled hard together like the first. Then
I observed a significant thing: these bits were in
line and leading from your trail down the slope of
the cattle range to the border of the forest. I went
back to the trail, and there on the baked earth, in
line with these bits of lint, I found a spot where a
bucket of water had been poured out."
Campbell was standing beyond him, staring at the
bit of lint. He looked up without disturbing the
crouch of his shoulders.
"Go on," he said.
"It occurred to me," continued my uncle, "that
perhaps these bits of lint might be found above the
trail, as I had found them below it, and so I rode
straight on up the hill to a rail fence. I found no
fragment of twisted stuff, but I found another thing,
Campbell : I found the weeds trampled on the other
side of the fence. I got down and looked closely.
On the upper surface of a flat rail, immediately
before the trampled weeds, there was an impression
as though a square bar of iron had been laid across
My uncle stopped. And Campbell said:
Abner remained a moment, his eyes on the man ;
then he continued:
"The impression was in a direct line toward the
point on the trail where the water had been poured
out. I was puzzled. I got into the saddle and rode
back across the trail and down the line of the frag-
ments of lint. At the edge of the forest I found
where a log-heap had been burned. I got down
again and walked back along the line of the twisted
lint. I looked closely, and I saw that the fragments
of dried grass, and now and then a rag-weed, had
been pressed down, as though by something moving
down the hillside from the trail to the burned log-
"Now, Campbell," he said, "what happened on
Campbell stood up and looked my uncle in the
face. "What do you think happened?" he said.
"I think," replied Abner, "that some one sat in
the weeds behind the fence with a half-stocked,
square-barreled rifle laid on the flat rail, and from
that ambush shot something passing on the trail, and
then dragged it down the hillside to the log-heap.
I think that poured-out water was to wash away
the blood where the thing fell. I do not know
The Concealed Path
where the bits of lint came from, but I think they
were rolled there under the weight of the heavy
body. Do I think correctly, eh, Campbell?"
"You do," said the man.
My uncle was astonished, for Campbell faced
liim, his aspect grim, determined, like one who at
any hazard will have the whole of a menace out.
"Abner," he said, "you have trailed this thing with
some theory behind it. In plain words, what is that
My uncle was amazed.
"Campbell," he replied, "since you wish the thing
said plain, I will not obscure it. Two men own a
great herd of cattle between them. The herd is to
be driven over the mountains to Baltimore and sold.
If one of the partners is shot out of his saddle and
the crime concealed, may not the other partner sell
the entire drove for his own and put the whole sum
in his pocket?
"And if this surviving partner, Campbell, were a
man taken with the devil's resolution, I think he
might try to make one great stroke of this business.
I think he might hire men to drive his cattle, giving
out that his partner had gone on ahead, arid then
turn back for the woman he wanted, take her to
Baltimore, put her on the ship, sell the cattle, and
with the woman and money sail out of the Chesa-
peake for the Scotch Highlands he came from ! Who
could say what became of the missing partner, or
that he did not receive his half of the money and
meet robbery and murder on his way home?"
1 My uncle stopped. And Campbell broke out into
a great ironical laugh.
"Now, let this thing be a lesson to you, Abner.
Your little deductions are correct, but your great
conclusion is folly.
"We had a wild heifer that would not drive, so
we butchered the beast. I had great trouble to
shoot her, but I finally managed it from behind the
"But the bits of lint," said my uncle, "and the
"Abner," cried the man, "do you handle cattle
for a lifetime and do not know how blood disturbs
them? We did not want them in commotion, so we
drenched the place where the heifer fell. And your
bits of lint! I will discover the mystery there. To
keep the blood off we put an old quilt under the
yearling and dragged her down the hill on that. The
bits of lint were from the quilt, and rolled thus un-
der the weight of the heifer."
Then he added: "That was weeks ago, but there
has been no rain for a month, and these signs of
crime, Abner, were providentially preserved against
your coming 1"
"And the log-heap," said my uncle, like one who
would have the whole of an explanation, "why was
"Now, Abner," continued the man, "after your
keen deductions, would you ask me a thing like that?
The Concealed Path
To get rid of the offal from the butchered beast.
We would not wash out the blood-stains and leave
that to set our cattle mad."
His laugh changed to a note of victory.
"And now, Abner," he cried, "will you stay and
see me married, who have come hoping to see me
My uncle had moved over to the window. While
Campbell spoke, he seemed to listen, not so much to
the man as to sounds outside. Now far off on a
covered wooden bridge of the road there was the
faint sound of horses. And with a grim smile Abner
"I will stay," he said, "and see which it is."
It was the very strangest wedding — the big, de-
termined woman like a Fate, the tattered servants
with candles in their hands, the minister, and the
bride covered and hidden in her veil, like a wooden
figure counterfeiting life.
The thing began. There was an atmosphere of
silence. My uncle went over to the window. The
snow on the road deadened the sounds of the ad-
vancing horses, until the iron shoes rang on the
stones before the door. Then, suddenly, as though
he waited for the sound, he cried out with a great
voice against the marriage. The big-nosed, red-
haired woman turned on him:
"Why do you object, who have no concern in this
"I object," said Abner, "because Campbell has
sent Eliott on the wrong path !"
"The wrong pathl" cried the woman.
"Aye," said Abner, "on the wrong path. There
is a path which the vulture's eye hath not seen, Job
tells us. But the path Campbell sent Eliott on,
the vulture did see."
He advanced with great strides into the room.
"Campbell," he cried, "before I left your accursed
pasture, I saw a buzzard descend into the forest
beyond your logheap. I went in, and there, shot
through the heart, was the naked body of Allen
Eliott. Your log heap, Campbell, was to burn the
quilt and the dead man's clothes. You trusted to
the vultures, for the rest, and the vultures, Camp-
bel, over-reached you."
My uncle's voice rose and deepened.
"I sent word to my brother Rufus to raise a posse
comitates and bring it to Maxwell's Tavern. Then
I rode in here to rest and to feed my horse. I found
you, Campbell, on the second line of your hell-
planned venture I
"I got Mrs. Eliott to send for Rufus to be a wit-
ness with me to your accursed marriage. And I
undertook to delay it until he came."
He raised his great arm, the clenched bronze
fingers big like the coupling pins of a cart.
"I would have stopped it with my own hand," he
said, "but I wanted the men of the Hills to hang
you. . . . And they are here."
The Concealed Path
There was a great sound of tramping feet in the
And while the men entered, big, grim, determined
men, Abner called out their names :
"Arnold, Randolph, Stuart, Elnathan Stone and
my brother Rufus!"
CHAPTER XVI: The Edge of the Shadow
IT was a land of strange varieties of courage.
But, even in the great hills, I never saw a man
like Cyrus Mansfield. He was old and dying
when this ghastly adventure happened; but, even in
the extremity of life, with its terrors on him, he met
the thing with his pagan notions of the public wel-
fare, and it is for his own gods to judge him.
It was a long afternoon of autumn. The dead
man lay in the whitewashed cabin staring up at the
cobwebbed ceiling. His left cheek below the eye
was burned with the brand of a pistol shot. The
track of a bullet ran along the eyebrow, plowing
into the skull above the ear. His grizzled hair stood
up like a brush, and the fanaticism of his face was
exaggerated by the strained postures of death.
A tall, gaunt woman sat by the door in the sun.
She had a lapful of honey locust, and she worked at
that, putting the pieces together in a sort of wreath.
The branches were full of thorns, and the inside of
the woman's hand was torn and wounded upon the
balls of the fingers and Ae palm, but she plaited
the thorns together, giving no heed to her injured
She did not get up when my Uncle Abner and
Squire Randolph entered. She sat over her work
with imperturbable stoicism.
The Edge of the Shadow
The man and woman were strangers in the land,
preempting one of Mansfield's cabins. Their mis-
sion was a mystery for conjecture. And now the
man's death was a mystery beyond it.
When Randolph inquired how the man had met
his death, the woman got up, without a word, went
to a cupboard in the wall, took out a dueling pistol,
and handed it to him. Then, shle spoke in a dreary
"He was mad. The cause,' he said, 'must have a
sacrifice of blood.' "
She looked steadily at the dead man.
"Ah, yes," she added, "he was mad!"
Then she turned about and went back to her chair
in the sun before the door.
Randolph and Abner examined the weapon. It
was a handsome dueling pistol, with an inlaid sil-
ver stock and a long, octagon barrel of hard, sharp-
edged steel. It had been lately fired, for the ex-
ploded percussion cap was still on the nipple.
"He was a poor shot," said Randolph; "he very
My uncle looked closely at the dead man's wound
and the burned cheek beneath it. He turned the
weapon slowly in his hand, but Randolph was im-
"Well, Abner," he said, "did the pistol kill him,
or was it the finger of God?"
"The pistol killed him," replied my uncle.
"And shall we believe the woman, eh, Abner?"
"I am willing to believe her," replied my uncle.
They looked about the cabin. There was blood
on the floor and flecked against the wall, and stains
on the barrel of die pistol, as though the man had
staggered about, stunned by the bullet, before he
died. And so the wound looked — not mortal on the
instant, but one from which, after some time, a man
Randolph wrote down his memorandum, and the
two went out into the road.
It was an afternoon of Paradise. The road ran
in a long endless ribbon westward toward the Ohio.
Negroes in the wide bottom land were harvesting
the corn and setting it up in great bulging shocks
tied with grapevine. Beyond on a high wooded
knoll, stood a mansion-house with white pillars.
My uncle took the duelling pistol out of his pocket
and handed it to the Justice of the Peace.
"Randolph," he said, "these weapons were made 1
in pairs ; there should be another. And," he added,
"there is a crest on the butt plate."
"Virginia is full of such folderols," replied the
Justice, "and bought and sold, pledged and traded.
It would not serve to identify the dead man. And
besides, Abner, why do we care ? He is dead by his
own hand; his rights and his injuries touch no other;
let him lie with his secrets."
He made a little circling gesture upward with his
" 'Duncan is dead/ " he quoted. " 'After life's
The Edge of the Shadow
fitful fever he sleeps well.' Shall we pay our re-
spects to Mansfield before we ride away?"
And he indicated the house like a white cornice
on the high cliff above them.
They had been standing with their backs to the
cabin door. Now the woman passed them. She
wore a calico sunbonnet, and carried a little bundle
tied up in a cotton handkerchief. She set out west-
ward along the road toward the Ohio. She walked
slowly, like one bound on an interminable journey.
Moved by some impulse they looked in at the
cabin door. The dead man lay as he had been,
his face turned toward the ceiling, his hands gro-
tesquely crossed, his body rigid. But now the sprigs
of honey locust, at which the woman worked, were
pressed down on his unkempt grizzled hair. The
sun lay on the floor, and there was silence.
They left the cabin with no word and climbed
the long path to the mansion on the hill.
Mansfield sat in a great chair on the pillared
porch. It was wide and cool, paved with colored
tiles carried over from England in a sailing ship.
He was the strangest man I have ever seen. He
was old and dying then, but he had a spirit in him
that no event could bludgeon into servility. He sat
with a gray shawl pinned around his shoulders. The
lights and shadows of the afternoon fell on his jaw
like a plowshare, on his big, crooked, bony nose,
on his hard gray eyes, bringing them into relief
against the lines and furrows of his face.
"Mansfield," cried Randolph, "how do you do?'*
"I still live," replied the old man, "but at any
hour I may be ejected out of life."
"We all live, Mansfield," said my uncle, "as long
as God wills."
"Now, Abner," cried the old man, "you repeat
the jargon of the churches. The will of man is the
only power in the universe, so far as we can find out,
that is able to direct the movings of events. Noth-
ing else that exists can make the most trivial thing
happen or cease to happen. No imagined god or
demon in all the history of the race has ever in-
fluenced the order of events as much as the feeblest
human creature in an hour of life. Sit down, Abner,
and let me tell you the truth before I cease to exist,
as the beasts of the field cease."
He indicated the great carved oak chairs about
him, and the two visitors sat down.
Randolph loved the vanities of argument, and he
"I am afraid, Mansfield," he said, "you will never
enjoy the pleasures of Paradise."
The old man made a contemptuous gesture.
"Pleasure, Randolph," he said, "is the happiness
of little men; big men are after something more.
They are after the satisfaction that comes from di-
recting events. This is the only happiness : to crush
out every other authority — to be the one dominating
authority — to make events take the avenue one likes.
The Edge of the Shadow
This is the happiness of the god of the universe, if
there is any god of the universe."
He moved in his chair, his elbows out, his fingers
extended, his bony face uplifted.
"Abner," he cried, "I am willing for you to en-
dure life as you find it and say it is the will of God,
but, as for me, I will not be cowed into submission.
I will not be held back from laying hold of the lever
of the great engine merely because the rumble of
the machinery fills other men with terror."
"Mansfield," replied my uncle, in his deep, level
voice, "the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom."
The old man moved his extended arms with a
powerful threshing motion, like a vulture beating the
air with its great wings.
"Fear I" he cried. "Why, Abner, fear is the last
clutch of the animal clinging to the intelligence of
man as it emerges from the instinct of the beast.
The first man thought the monsters about him were
gods. Our fathers thought the elements were gods,
and we think the impulse moving the machinery of
the world is the will of some divine authority. And
always the only thing in the universe that was su-
perior to these things has been afraid to assert it-
self. The human will that can change things, that
can do as it likes, has been afraid of phantasms that
never yet met with anything they could turn aside."
He clenched his hands, contracted his elbows, and
brought them down with an abrupt derisive gesture.
"I do not understand," he said, "but I am not
afraid. I will not be beaten into submission by
vague, inherited terrors. I will not be subservient
to things that have a lesser power than I have. I
will not yield the control of events to elements that
are dead, to laws that are unthinking, or to an in-
fluence that cannot change.
"Not all the gods that man has ever worshiped
can make things happen to-morrow, but I can make
them happen; therefore, I am a god above them.
And how shall a god that is greater than these gods
give over the dominion of events into their hands?"
"And so, Mansfield," said Abner, "you have been
acting just now upon this belief?"
The old man turned his bony face sharply on my
"Now, Abner," he said, "what do you mean by
this Delphic sentence?"
For reply, my uncle extended his arms toward
the whitewashed cabin.
"Who is the dead man down there?"
"Randolph can tell you that," said Mansfield.
"I never saw the man until to-day," replied the
"Eh, Randolph," cried the old man, "do you ad-
minister the law and have a memdry like that? In
midsummer the justices sat at the county seat. Have
you forgot that inquisition?"
"I have not," said the Justice. "It was a fool's
inquiry. One of Nixon's negro women reported a
slave plot to poison the wells and attack the people
The Edge of the Shadow
with a curious weapon. She got the description of
the weapon out of some preacher's sermon — a kind
of spear. If she had named some implement of
modern warfare, we could have better credited her
"Well, Randolph," cried the old man, "for all the
wisdom of your justices, she spoke the truth. They
were pikes the woman saw, and not the spears of
the horsemen of Israel. Did you notice a stranger
who remained in a corner of the courtroom while
the justices were sitting? He disappeared after the
trial. But did you mark him, Randolph ? He lies
dead down yonder in my negro cabin."
A light came into the face of the Justice.
"By the Eternal," he cried, "an abolitionist!"
He flipped the gold seals on his watch fob; then
he added, with that little circling gesture of his fin-
"Well, he has taken himself away with his own
"He is dead," said Mansfield, thrusting out his
plowshare jaw, "as all such vermin ought to be.
We are too careless in the South of these vicious
reptiles. We ought to stamp them out of life when-
ever we find them. They are a menace to the peace
of the land. They incite the slaves to arson and to
murder. They are beyond the law, as the panther
and the wolf are. We ought to have the courage
to destroy the creatures.
"The destiny of this republic," he added, u is in
My uncle Abner spoke then :
"It is in God's hands," he said.
"God!" cried Mansfield. "I would not give
house room to such a god I When we dawdle, At*
ner, the Yankees always beat us. Why, man, if this
thing runs on, it will wind up in a lawsuit. We shall
be stripped of our property by a court f s writ. And
instead of imposing our will on this republic, we
shall be answering a little New England lawyer with
rejoinders and rebuttals."
"Would the bayonet be a better answer?" said my
"Now, Abner," said Mansfield, "you amuse me.
These Yankees have no stomach for the bayonet.
They are traders, Abner; they handle the shears and
My uncle looked steadily at the man.
"Virginia held that opinion of New England when
the King's troops landed," he said. "It was a com-
mon belief. Why, sir, even Washington riding
north to the command of the Colonial army, when
he heard of the battle of Bunker Hill, did not ask
who had won ; his only inquiry was, 'Did the militia
of Massachusetts fight? 9 It did fight, Mansfield,
with immortal courage."
My uncle Abner lifted his face and looked out
over the great valley, mellow with its ripened corn.
His voice fell into a reflective note.
The Edge of the Shadow
"The situation in this republic," he said, "is grave,
and I am full of fear. In God's hands the thing
would finally adjust itself. In God's slow, devious
way it would finally come out all right. But neither
you, Mansfield, nor the abolitionist, will leave the
thing to God. You will rush in and settle it witK
violence. You will find a short cut of your own
through God's deliberate way, and I tremble before
the horror of blood that you would plunge us into."
He paused again, and his big, bronzed features
had the serenity of some vast belief.
"To be fair," he said, "everywhere in this repub-
lic, to enforce the law everywhere, to put down vio-
lence, to try every man who takes the law In his own
hand, fairly in the courts, and, if he is guilty, pun-
ish him without fear or favor, according to the let-
ter of the statute, to keep everywhere a public sen-
timent of fair dealing, by an administration of jus-
tice above all public clamor — in this time of heat, this
is our only hope of peace !"
He spoke in his deep, level voice, and the words
seemed to be concrete things having dimensions and
"Shall a fanatic who stirs up our slaves to mur-
der," said Mansfield, "be tried like a gentleman be-
fore a jury?"
"Aye, Mansfield," replied my uncle, "like a gen-
tleman, and before a jury ! If the fanatic murders
the citizen, I would hang him, and if the citizen mur-
ders the fanatic, I would hang him too, without one
finger's weight of difference in the method of pro-
cedure. I would show New England that the jus-
tice of Virginia is even-eyed. And she would emu-
late that fairness, and all over the land the law
would hold against the unrestraint that is gather-
"Abner," cried Mansfield, "you are a dawdler
like your god. I know a swifter way."
"I am ready to believe it," replied my uncle.
"Who killed the mad abolitionist down yonder?"
"Who cares," said the old man, "since the beast
"I care," replied Abner.
"Then, find it out, Abner, if you care," said the
old man, snapping his jaws.
"I have found it out," said my uncle, "and it has
happened in so strange a way, and with so ctirious
an intervention, that I cannot save the State from
"It happened in the simplest way imaginable,"
said Randolph: "The fool killed himself."
It was not an unthinkable conclusion. The whole
land was wrought up to the highest tension. Men
were beginning to hold their properties and their
lives as of little account in this tremendous issue.
The country was ready to flare up in a war, and to
fire it the life of one man would be nothing. A
thousand madmen were ready to make that sacrifice
of life. That a fanatic would shoot himself in Vir-
ginia with the idea that the slave owners would be
The Edge of the Shadow
charged by the country with his murder and so the
war brought on, was not a thing improbable in that
day's extremity of passion. To the madman it
would be only the slight sacrifice of his life for the
immortal gain of a holy war.
My uncle looked at the Justice with a curious
"I think Mansfield will hardly believe that," he
The old man laughed.
"It is a pretty explanation, Randolph/' he said,
"and I commend it to all men, but I do not believe
"Not believe itl" cried the Justice, looking first
at my uncle and then at the old man. "Why, Ab-
ner, you said the woman spoke the truth I"
"She did speak it," replied my uncle.
"Damme, man !" cried the Justice. "Why do you
beat about? If you believe the woman, why do you
gentlemen disbelieve my conclusion on her words?"
"I disbelieve it, Randolph," replied my uncle, "for
the convincing reason that I know who killed him."
"And I," cried Mansfield, "disbelieve it for an
equally convincing reason — for the most convincing
reason in the world, Randolph," — and his big voice
laughed in among the pillars and rafters of his porch
— "because I killed him myself I"
Abner sat unmoving, and Randolph like a man
past belief. The Justice fumbled with the pistol in
his pocket, got it out, and laid it on the flat arm on
his chair, but he did not speak. The confession
The old man stood up, and the voice in his time-
shaken body was Homeric :
"Ho! Ho !" he cried. "And so you thought I
would be afraid, Randolph, and dodge about like
your little men, shaken and overcome by fear." And
he huddled in his shawl with a dramatic gesture.
"Fear !" And his laugh burst out again in a high
staccato. "Even the devils in Abner's Christian hell
lack that 1 I shot the creature, Randolph ! Do you
hear the awful words? And do you tremble for me,
lest I hang and go to Abner's hell?"
The mock terror in the old man's voice and man-
ner was compelling drama. He indicated the pistol
on the chair arm.
"Yes," he said, "it is mine. Abner should have
known it by the Mansfield arms."
"I did know it," replied my uncle.
The old man looked at the Justice with a queer
ironical smile ; then he went into the house.
"Await me, Randolph," he said. "I would pro-
duce the evidence and make out your case."
And prodded by the words, Randolph cursed bit-
"By the Eternal," he cried, "I am as little afraid
as any of God's creatures, but the man confounds
And he spoke the truth. He was a justice of the
peace in Virginia when only gentlemen could hold
The Edge of the Shadow
that office He lacked the balance and the ability
of his pioneer ancestors, and he was given over to
the vanity and the extravagance of words, but fear
and all the manifestations of feaf were alien to him.
He turned when the old man came out with a rose-
wood box in his hand, and faced him calmly.
"Mansfield," he said, "I want you. I represent
the law, and if you have done a murder, I will get
The old man paused, and looked at Randolph
with his maddening ironical smile.
"Fear again, eh, Randolph!" he said. "Is it by
fear that you would always restrain me? Shall I
be plucked back from the gibbet and Abner's hell
only by this fear? It is a menace I have too long
disregarded. You must give me a better reason."
Mansfield opened the rosewood box and took out
a pistol like the one on the arm of Randolph's chair.
He held the weapon lightly in his hand.
"The creature came here to harangue me," he
said, "and like the genie in the copper pot, I gave
him his choice of deaths."
He laughed, for the fancy pleased him.
"In the swirl of his heroics, Abner, I carried him
the pistol yonder, to the steps of my portico where
he stood, and with this other and my father's watch,
I sat down here. 'After three minutes, sir, 9 I said,
'I shall shoot you down. It is my price for hearing
your oration. Fire before that time is up. I shall
call out the minutes for your convenience/
"And so, I sat here, Abner, with my father 1 *
watch, while the creature ranted with my pistol in
"I called out the time, and he harangued me : 'The
black of the negro shall be washed white with blood V
And I answered him: 'One minute, sir!'
" 'The Lord will make Virginia a possession for
the bittern!' was his second climax, and I replied,
'Two minutes of your time are upl'
" 'The South is one great brothel,' he shouted, and
I answered, 'Three minutes, my fine fellow,' and
shot him as I had promised! He leaped off into
the darkness with my unfired pistol aijtd fled to the
cabin where yqu found him."
There was a moment's silence, and my uncle put
out his arm and pointed down across the long
meadow to a grim outline traveling far off on the
"Mansfield," he said, "you have lighted the pow-
der train that God, at His leisure, would have damp-
ened. You have broken the faith of the world in
our sincerity. Virginia will be credited with this
man's death, and we cannot hang you for it!"
"And why not?" cried Randolph, standing up.
He had been prodded into unmanageable anger.
"The Commonwealth has granted no letters of
marque; it has proclaimed no outlawry. Neither
Mansfield nor any other has a patent to do mur-
der. I shall get him hanged!"
My uncle shook his head.
The Edge of the Shadow
"No, Randolph," he said, "you cannot hang him."
"And why not?" cried the Justice of the Peace,
aroused now, and defiant. "Is Mansfield above the
law? If he kills this madman, shall he have a writ
of exemption for it?"
"But he did not kill him!" replied my uncle.
Randolph was amazed. And Mansfield shook
his head slowly, his face retaining its ironical smile.
"No, Abner," he said, "let Randolph have his
case. I shot him."
Then he put out his hand, as though in courtesy,
to my uncle. "Be at peace," he said. "If I were
moved by fear, there is a greater near me than
Randolph's gibbet. I shall be dead and buried be-
fore his grand jury can hold its inquisition."
"Mansfield," replied my uncle, "be yourself at
peace, for you did not kill him."
"Not kill himl" cried the man. "I shot him
He sat down in his chair and taking the pistol out
of the rosewood box, leveled it at an imaginary fig-
ure across the portico. The man 9 s hand was steady
and the sun glinted on the steel barrel.
"And because you shot thus," said Abner, "you
did not kill him. Listen, Mansfield : the pistol that
killed the Abolitionist was held upside down and
close. The brand on the dead man's face is under
the bullet hole. If the pistol had been held as usual,
the brand would have been above it. It is a law of
pistol wounds: as you turn the weapon, so will the
brand follow. Held upside down, the brand was
below the wound."
A deepening wonder came into the old man's
"How did the creature die, then, if I missed him?"
Abner took up the weapon on the arm of Ran-
"The dead man did not shoot in Mansfield's fan-
tastic duel," he said. "Nevertheless this pistol has
been fired. And observe there is a smeared blood-
stain on the sharp edges of the barrel. I think I
know what happened.
"The madman with his pistol, overwrought,
struggled in the cabin yonder to make himself a
'sacrifice of blood' and so bring on this war. Some-
one resisted his mad act — some one who seized the
barrel of the pistol and in this struggle also got a
wounded hand. Who in that cabin had a wounded
"By the living God!" cried the Justice of the
Peace. "The woman who plaited thorns I It was
a blind to cover her injured hand!"
Abner looked out across the great meadows at
a tiny figure far off, fading into the twilight of the
distant road that led toward the Ohio.
"To cover her injured hand," he echoed, "and
also, perhaps, who knows, to symbolize the dead
man's mission, as she knew he saw it! The heart
of a woman is the deepest of all God's riddles!"
CHAPTER XVII: The Adopted Daughter
ISN'T she a beauty— eh, Randolph?"
Vespatian Flornoy had a tumbler of French
brandy. He sucked in a mouthful. Then he
put it on the table.
The house was the strangest in Virginia. It was
of some foreign model. The whole second floor on
the side lying toward the east was in two spacious
chambers lighted with great casement windows to
the ceiling. Outside, on this brilliant morning, the
world was yellow and dried-up, sere and baked.
But the. sun was thin and the autumn air hard and
My uncle, Squire Randolph, the old country doc-
tor, Storm, and the host, Vespatian Flornoy, were in
one of these enormous rooms. They sat about a
table, a long mahogany piece made in England and
brought over in a sailing ship. There were a squat
bottle of French brandy and some tumblers. Flor-
noy drank and recovered his spirit of abandon.
Now he leered at Randolph, and at the girl that
he had just called in.
He was a man one would have traveled far to
see — yesterday or the day ahead of that. He had
a figure out of Athens, a face cast in some forgotten
foundry by the Arno, thick-curled mahogany-colored
hair, and eyes like the velvet hull of an Italian chest-
nut. These excellencies the heavenly workman had
turned out, and now by some sorcery of the pit they
were changed into abominations.
Hell-charms, one thought of, when one looked the
creature in the face. Drops of some potent liquor,
and devil-words had done it, on yesterday or the
day ahead of yesterday. Surely not the things that
really had done it — time and the iniquities of
Gomorrah. His stock and his fine ruffled shirt were
soiled. His satin waistcoat was stained with liquor.
"A daughter of a French marquis, eh 1" he went
on. "Sold into slavery by a jest of the gods — stolen
out of the garden of a convent ! It's the fabled his-
tory of every octoroon in New Orleans 1"
Fabled or not, the girl might have been the thing
he said. The contour of the face came to a point
at the chin, and the skin was a soft Oriental olive.
She was the perfect expression of a type. One never
could wish to change a line of her figure or a fea-
ture of her face. She stood now in the room before
the door in the morning sun, in the quaint, alluring
costume of a young girl of the time — a young girl
of degree, stolen out of the garden of a convent!
She had entered at Flornoy's drunken call, and
there was the aspect of terror on her.
The man went on in his thick, abominable voice :
"My brother Sheppard, coming north to an inspec-
tion of our joint estate, presents her as his adopted
daughter. But when he dropped dead in this room
last night and I went about the preparation of his
The Adopted Daughter
body for your inquisition— eh, what, my gentlemen 1
I find a bill of sale running back ten years, for the
"French, and noble, stolen from the garden of a
convent, perhaps 1 Perhaps I but not by my brother
Sheppard. His adopted daughter — sentimentally,
perhaps! Perhaps! But legally a piece of prop-
erty, I think, descending to his heirs. Eh, Ran-
And he thrust a folded yellow paper across the
The Justice put down his glass with the almost un-
tasted liquor in it, and examined the bill of sale.
"It is in form !" he said. "And you interpret it
correctly, Flornoy, by the law's letter. But you will
not wish to enforce it, I imagine!"
"And why not, Randolph?" cried the man.
The Justice looked him firmly in the face.
"You take enough by chance, sir. You and your
brother Sheppard held the estate jointly at your
father's death, and now at your brother's death you
hold it as sole heir. You will not wish, also, to hold
his adopted daughter."
Then he added:
"This bill of sale would hold in the courts against
any unindentured purpose, not accompanied by an
intention expressed in some overt act. It would
also fix the status of the girl against any pretended .
or legendary exemption of birth. The judges might
believe that your brother Sheppard was convinced of
this pretension when he rescued the child by pur-
chase, and made his informal adoption at a tender
age. But they would hold the paper, like a deed,
irrevocable, and not to be disturbed by this conjec-
"It will hold," cried the man, "and I wUi hold!
You make an easy disclaimer of the rights of other
Then his face took on the aspect of a satyr's.
"Give her up, eh! to be a lady! Why Randolph,
I would have given Sheppard five hundred golden
eagles for this little beauty — five hundred golden
eagles in his hand! Look at her, Randolph. You
are not too old to forget the points — the trim ankle,
the slender body, the snap of a thoroughbred.
There's the blood of the French marquis, on my
honor! A drop of black won't curdle it."
And he laughed, snapping his fingers at his wit.
"It only makes the noble lady merchandise ! And
perhaps, as you say, perhaps it isn't there, in fact.
Egad ! old man, I would have bid a thousand eagles
if Sheppard had put her up. A thousand eagles I
and I get her for nothing! He falls dead in my
house, and I take her by inheritance."
It was the living truth. The two men, Vespatian
Flornoy and his brother Sheppard, took their
father's estate jointly at his death. They were un-
married, and now at the death of Sheppard, the sur-
viving brother Vespatian was sole heir, under the
law, to the dead man's properties: houses and lands
The Adopted Daughter
and slaves. The bill of tale put the girl an item in
die inventory of the dead man's estate, to descend
with the manor-house and lands.
The thing had happened, as fortune is predis-
posed to change, in a moment, as by the turning of
At daybreak on this morning Vespatian Flornoy
had sent a negro at a gallop, to summon the old
country doctor, Storm, Squire Randolph and my
uncle Abner. At midnight, in this chamber where
they now sat, Sheppard as he got on his feet, with
his candle, fell and died, Vespatian said, before he
could reach his body. He lay now shaven and
clothed for burial in the great chamber that ad-
Old Storm had stripped the body and found no
mark. The man was dead with no scratch or bruise.
He could not say what vital organ had suddenly
played out — perhaps a string of the heart had
snapped. At any rate, the dead man had not gone
out by any sort of violence, nor by any poison.
Every drug or herb that killed left its stamp and
superscription, old Storm said, and one could see
it, if one had the eye, as one could see the slash of
a knife or the bruise of an assassin's fingers.
It was plain death "by the Providence of God,"
was Randolph's verdict. So the Justice and old
Storm summed up the thing and they represented the
Inquiry and the requirements of the law.
My uncle Abner made no comment on this con-
elusion. He came and looked and was silent. He
demurred to the 'Providence of God' in Randolph's
verdict, with a great gesture of rejection. He dis-
liked this term in any human horror. "By the
abandonment of God," he said, these verdicts ought
rather to be written. But he gave no sign that his
objection was of any special tenor. He seemed
When the girl came in, at Vespatian's command,
to this appraisal, he continued silent At the man's
speech, and evident intent, his features and his great
jaw hardened, as though under the sunburned skin
the bony structure of the face were metal.
He sat in his chair, a little way out beyond the
table, as he sat on a Sunday before the pulpit,
on a bench, motionless, in some deep concern.
Randolph and Vespatian Flornoy were in this
dialogue. Old Storm sat with his arms folded
across his chest, his head down. His interest in the
matter had departed with his inspection of the dead
man, or remained in the adjoining chamber where
the body lay, the eyelids closed forever on the land
of living men, shut up tight like the shutters of a
window in a house of mystery. He only glanced
at the girl with no interest, as at a bauble.
And now while the dialogue went on and Storm
looked down his nose, the girl, silent and in terror,
appealed to my uncle in a furtive glance, swift,
charged with horror, and like a flash of shadow.
The great table had "a broad board connecting the
The Adopted Daughter
carved legs beneath, a sort of shelf raised a little
from the floor. In her glance, swift and fearful,
she directed my uncle's attention to this board.
It was a long piece of veneered mahogany, mak-
ing a shelf down the whole length of the table. On
it my uncle saw a big folded cloth of squares white
and black, and a set of huge ivory chess-men. The
cloth was made to spread across the top of the table,
and the chess-men were of unusual size in propor-
tion to the squares; the round knobs on the heads of
the pawns were as big as marbles. Beside these
things was a rosewood box for dueling-pistols, after
the fashion of the time.
My uncle stooped over, took up these articles and
set them on the table.
"And so, Flornoy," he said, "you played at chess
with your brother Sheppard."
The man turned swiftly; then he paused and
drank his glass of liquor.
"I entertained my brother," he said, "as I could;
there is no coffee-house to enter, nor any dancing
women to please the eye, in the mountains of Vir-
"For what stake?" said my uncle.
"I have forgotten, Abner," replied the man,
"And who won?" said my uncle.
"I won," replied the man. He spoke promptly*
"You won," said my uncle, "and you remember
that; but what you won, you have forgotten 1 Re-
flect a little on it, Flornoy."
The man cursed, his face in anger.
"Does it matter, Abner, a thing great or small?
It is all mine to-day!"
"But it was not all yours last night,' 1 said my uncle.
"What I won was mine," replied the man,
"Now, there," replied my uncle, "lies a point that
I would amplify. One might win* byt might not
receive the thing one played for. One might claim
it for one's own, and the loser might deny it. If the
stake were great, the loser might undertake to re-
pudiate the bargain. And how would one enforce
The man put down his glass, leaned over and
looked steadily at my uncle.
Abner slipped the silver hooks on the rosewood
box, slowly, with his thumb and finger.
"I think," he said, "that if the gentleman you
have in mind won, and were met with a refusal, he
would undertake to enforce his claim, not in the
courts or by any legal writ, but by the methods which
gentlemen such as you have in mind are accustomed
He opened the box and took out two pistols of the
time. Then his faced clouded with perplexity.
Both weapons were clean and loaded.
The man, propping his wonderful face in the hol-
low of his hand, laughed. He had the face and the
laughter of the angels cast out with Satan, when in
The Adopted Daughter
a moment of some gain over the hosts of Michael
they forgot the pit.
"Abner," he cried, "you are hag-ridden by a habit,
and it leads you into the wildest fancies !"
His laughter chuckled and gurgled in his throat.
"Let me put your theory together. It is a very
pretty theory, lacking in some trifles, but spirited
and packed with dramatic tension. Let me sketch
it out as it stands before your eye. . . . Have
no fear, I shall not mar it by any delicate concern
for the cunning villain, or any suppression of his
evil nature. I shall uncover the base creature amid
his deeds of darkness!"
He paused, and mocked the tragedy of actors.
"It is the hour of yawning graveyards — midnight
in this house. Vespatian Flornoy sits at this table
with his good brother Sheppard. He has the covet-
ousness of David the son of Jesse, in his evil heart.
He would possess the noble daughter of the Latin
marquis, by a sardonic fate sold at childhood into
slavery, but by the ever watchful Providence of God,
for such cases made and provided, purchased by the
good brother Sheppard and adopted for his
"Mark, Abner, how beautifully it falls into the
formula of the tragic poets I
"The wicked Vespatian Flornoy, foiled in every
scheme of purchase, moved by the instigation of the
Devil, and with no fear of God before his eyes, plays
at chess with his good brother Sheppard, wins his
interest in the manor-house and lands, and his last
gold-piece — taunts and seduces him into a final game
with everything staked against this Iphigenia. The
evil one rises invisible but sulphurous to Vespatian's
aid. He wins. In terror, appalled, aghast at the
realization of his folly, the good brother Sheppard
repudiates the bargain. They duel across the table,
and Vespatian, being the better shot, kills his good
brother Sheppard I
"Why, Abner, it is the plan of the 'Poetics/ It
lacks no element of completeness. It is joined and
fitted for the diction of Euripides !"
The man declaimed, his wonderful fouled face, his
Adonis head with its thick curled hair, virile and
spirited with the liquor and the momentum of his
words. Old Storm gave no attention. Randolph
listened as to the periods of an oration. And my
uncle sat, puzzled, before the articles on the table.
The girl now and then, when the speaker's eyes were
on my uncle, by slight indicatory signs affirmed the
speech, and continued strongly to indicate the chess-
My uncle began to turn the pieces over under the
protection of his hand, idly, like one who fingers
about a table in abstraction. Presently he stopped
and covered one of the pieces with his hand. It was
a pawn, large, like the other chess-men, but the
round ivory knob at the top of it was gone. It had
been sawed off I
The man Flornoy, consumed with his idea, failed
The Adopted Daughter
to mark the incident, and moved by the tenor of his
speech, went on :
"This is the Greek plan for a tragedy. It is the
plan of Athens m the fifth century. It is the plan
of Sophocles and <£schyhis. Mark how it turns
upon die Hellenic idea of a dominating Fate: a Fate
in control over the affairs of men, pagan and not
good. The innocent and virtuous have no gain
above the shrewd and wicked. The good 'Sheppard
dies, and the evil Vespatian takes his daughter, his
goods and lands to enjoy in a gilded life, long and
He thought the deep reflection In my uncle's face
was confusion at his wit.
"That ending would not please you, Abner.
Luther and Calvin and John Wesley have lived
after Aristotle assembled this formula in his
'Poetics.' And they will have the evil punished—
a dagger in the wicked Veepatiaa's heart, and the
yirgin slave, by the interposition of the will of
Heaven, preserved in her virginity. And so you
come, like the Providence of God, to set the thing
in order 1"
My uncle looked up at the man, his hand covering
the mutilated pawn, his face calm in its profound
"You quote the tragic poets, with much pedantry,"
he said. "Well, I will quote them too: 'Ofttimes,
to win us to our harm, the instruments of darkness
tell us truth! 9 How much truth, in all this dis-
course, have you told us?"
"Now, Abner," cried the man, "if it is truth you
seek, and not the imaginations of a theory, how
much could there be in it? If it were not for the
granite ledges of reality, one might blow iris-colored
bubbles of the fancy and watch them, in their beauty,
journey to the stars! But alas, they collide with
the hard edges of a fact and puff out
"To begin with, the pistols have not been fired I"
"One could reload a pistol," replied my uncle.
"But one could not shoot a man, Abner, and leave
no mark of the bullet on his body!"
He paused and addressed the old doctor.
"I sent for Storm, when I sent for Randolph, to
rid me of every innuendo of a gossip. Ask him if
there is a mark of violence on my brother's body."
The old man lifted his lined, withered face.
"There is no mark on him!" he said.
Vespatian Flornoy leaned across the table.
"Are you sure?" he said "Perhaps you might
Thd words were in the taunting note of Elijah
to the priests of Baal.
The old man made a decisive gesture. "Voila!"
lie said, "I have handled a thousand dead men! I
am not mistaken!"
Vespatian Flornoy put up his hands as in a great,
"Alas, Abner," he said, "we must give up thia
The Adopted Daughter
pretty theory. It does honor to your creative in-
stinct, and save for this trifle, we might commend it
to all men. But you see, Abner, Storm and the
world will unreasonably insist that a bullet leaves a
mark. I do not think we can persuade them against
their experience in that belief. I am sorry for you,
Abner. You have a reputation in Virginia to keep
up. Let us think; perhaps there is a way around
this disconcerting fact."
And he put his extended palm across his forehead,
in mock reflection.
It was at this moment, when for an instant the
man's face was covered, that the girl standing be-
fore the door made a strange indicatory signal to
my uncle Abner.
Vespatian Flornoy, removing his hand, caught a
glimpse of the gijrl's after-expression. And he
burst out in a great laugh, striking the table with
his clenched hand.
"Egad!" he cried. "By the soul of Satan I the
coy little baggage is winking at Abner I"
He saw only the final composition of the girl's
face. He did not see the stress and vigor of the
indicatory sign. He roared in a pretension of jeal-
"I will not have my property ogle another in my
house. You shall answer for this, Abner, on the
field of honor. And I warn you, sir: I have the
surest eye and the steadiest hand in the mountains of
It was the truth. The man was the wonder of
the countryside. He could cut a string; with a
pistol at ten paces; he could drive in a carpet-tack
with his bullet, across a room. With the weapon
of the time, the creature was sure, accurate to a hair,
"No man/ 1 he cried, u shaU carry 06 this dainty
baggage. Select your weapon, Abner; let us duel
over this seduction!"
He spoke in tfoe flippancies of jest. But my
uncle's face was now alight with some great com-
prehensive purpose. It was like the face of one
who begins to see the bulk and outlines of a thins
that before this hour, in spite of every scrutiny, was
And to Flornoy's surprise and wonder, my uncle
put out his hand, took up one of the pistols and
suddenly fired it into the wood of the mantelpiece
beyond the table. He got up and looked at the
mark. The bullet was hardly bedded in the veneer*
"You use a light charge of powder, Flornoy,"
said my uncle.
The man was puzzled at thb act, but he answered
"Abner," he said, "that is a secret I have learned.
A pistol pivots on the grip. In firing, there are two
things to avoid : a jerk on the trigger, and the ten-
dency of the muzzle to jump up, caused by the recoil
of the charge. No man can control his weapon with
a heavy charge of powder behind the bullet. If one
The Adopted Daughter
would shoot true to a hair, one must load light."
It seemed a considerable explanation. And not
one of the men who heard it ever knew whether it
was, in fact, the controlling cause, or whether an-
other and more subtle thing inspired it.
"But, Flornoy," said my uncle, "if to kill were the
object of a duelist, such a charge of powder might
defeat the purpose."
"You are mistaken, Abner," he said. "The body
of a man is soft. If one avoids the bony structure,
a trifling charge of powder will carry one's bullet
into a vital organ. There is no gain in shooting
through a man as though one were going to string
him on a thread. Powder enough to lodge the
bullet in the vital organ is sufficient."
"There might be a point in not shooting through
him," said Abner.
The man looked calmly at my uncle ; then he made
an irrelevant gesture.
"No object, Abner, but no use. The whole point
is to shoot to a hair, to lodge the bullet precisely in
the point selected. Look how a light charge of
powder does it."
And taking up the other pistol, he steadied it a
moment in his hand, and fired at Abner's bullet-hole.
No mark appeared on the mantel board. One
would have believed that the bullet, if the barrel
held one, had wholly vanished. But when they
looked closely, it was seen that my uncle's bullet,
struck precisely, was driven a little deeper into the
wood. It was amazing accuracy. No wonder the
man's skill was a byword in the land.
My uncle made a single comment.
"You shoot like the slingers of Benjamin! 1 ' he
Then he came back to the table and stood looking
down at the man. He held the mutilated ivory
pawn in his closed left hand. The girl, like an ap-
praised article, was in the doorway; Storm and
Randolph looked on, like men before the blind mov-
ing of events.
"Flornoy," said Abner, "you have told us more
truth than you intended us to believe. How did
your brother Sheppard die?"
The man's face changed. His fingers tightened
on the pistol. His eyes became determined and
"Damme, man," he cried, "do you return to that!
Sheppard fell and died, where you stand, beside the
table in this room. I am no surgeon to say what
disorder killed him. I sent for Storm to determine
My uncle turned to the old eccentric doctor.
"Storm," he said, "how did Sheppard Flornoy
The old man shrugged his shoulders and put out
his nervous hands.
"I do not know," he said, "the heart, maybe*
There is no mark on him."
And here Randolph interrupted.
The Adopted Daughter
"Abner," he said, "you put a question that no man
can answer: something snaps within the body, and
we die. We have no hint at the cause of Shep-
"Why yes," replied my uncle, "I think we have."
"What hint?" said Randolph.
"The hint," said Abner, "that the eloquent Vea-
patian gave us just now in his discourse. I think
he set out the cause in his apt recollection from the
Book of Samuel."
He paused and looked down at the man.
Vespatian Flornoy got on his feet. His face and
manner changed. There was now decision and
menace in his voice.
"Abner," he said, "there shall be an end to this.
I have turned your ugly hint with pleasantry, and
met it squarely with indisputable facts. I shall not
go any further on this way. I shall clear myself
now, after the manner of a gentleman."
My uncle looked steadily at the man.
"Flornoy," he said, "if you would test your inno-
cence by a device of the Middle Ages, I would sug-
gest a simpler and swifter method of that time.
Wager of battle is outlawed in Virginia. It is pro-
hibited by statute, and we cannot use it. . But the
test I offer in its place is equally medieval. It is
based on the same belief, old and persistent, that the
Providence of God will indicate the guilty. And
it is not against the law."
"The same generation of men who believed in
Wager of Battle, in the Morsel of Execration, in the
red-hot plowshares* as a test of the guilt of murder,
also believed that if the assassin touched his victim,
the body of the murdered man would bleed 1
"Flornoy," he said, "if you would have recourse
to one of those medieval devices, let it be the last.
• • . Go in with me and touch the body of your
brother Sheppard, and I g£ve you my word of honor
that I will accept the decision of the test."
It was impossible to believe that my uncle Abner
trifled, and yet the thing was beyond the soundings
of all sense.
Storm and Randolph, and even the girl standing
in the door, regarded him in wonder.
Vespatian Flornoy was amazed.
"Damme, man!" he cried, "superstitions have ua^
hinged your mind. Would you believe in a thing
"I would rather believe it," replied my uncle,
"than to believe that in a duel God would direct the
Then he added, with weight and decision in his
"If you would be clear of my suspicion, if you
would be free to take and enjoy the lands and prop-
erties that you inherit, go in before these witnesses
and touch the dead body of your brother Sheppard.
There is no mark appearing on him. Storm has
found no wound to bleed. You are innocent of any
The Adopted Daughter
easure in his death, you tell us. There's no peril
to you, and I shall ride away to assure every man
that Sheppard Flornoy died, as Randolph has writ-
ten, by the 'Providence of God.' "
He extended his arm toward the adjacent cham-
ber, and across the table he looked Flornoy in the
"Go in before us and touch the dead man."
"By the soul of Satan 1" cried the man, "if you
hang on such a piece of foolery, you shall have it
The curse of superstition sticks in your fleece, Abner,
like a burr.' 9
He turned and flung open the door behind him and
went ul The others followed — Storm and Ran-
dolph behind the man, the jprl, shaken and fearful,
and my uncle Abner.
Sheppard Flornoy lay prepared for burial in the
center of the room. The morning sun entering
through the long windows flooded him with light;
his features were sharply outlined in the mask of
death, his eyelids closed.
They stood about the dead man, at peace in this
glorious shroud of sun, and the living brother was
about to touch him when my uncle put out his hand.
"Flornoy," he said, "the dead man ought to see
who comes to touch him. I will open his eyes."
And at the words, for no cause or reason conceiv-
able to the two men looking on, Vespatian Flornoy
shouted with an oath, and ran in on my uncle.
He was big and mad with terror. But even in
his youth and fury he was not a match for my Uncle
Abner. Liquor and excess failed before wind and
sun and the clean life of the hills. The man went
down under my uncle's clenched hand, like an ox
polled with a hammer.
It was Randolph who cried out, while the others
crowded around the dead man and his brother un-
conscious on the floor.
"Abner, Abner," he said, "what is the answer to
this ghastly riddle ?"
For reply my uncle drew back the eyelids of the
dead man. And stooping over, Randolph and old
Storm saw that Sheppard Flornoy had been shot
through the eye, and that the head of the ivory pawn
had been forced into the bullet-hole to round out the
damaged eyeball under the closed lid.
The girl sobbed, clinging to my uncle's arm.
Randolph tore the bill of sale into indistinguishable
bits. And the old doctor Storm made a great ges-
ture with his hands extended and crooked.
"Mon Dieu!" he cried, in a consuming revulsion
of disgust. "My father was surgeon in the field for
Napoleon, I was raised with dead men, and a drunk-
en assassin fools me in the mountains of Virginia 1"
CHAPTER XVIII: Nqboth's Vineyard
ONE hears a good deal about the sovereignty
of the people in this republic; and many
persons imagine it a sort of fiction, and
wonder where it lies, who are the guardians of it,
and how they would exercise it if the forms and
agents of the law were removed. I am not one of
those who speculate upon this mystery, for I have
seen this primal ultimate authority naked at its work.
And, having seen it, I know how mighty and how
dread a thing it is. And I know where it lies, and
who are the guardians of it, and how they exercise
it when the need arises.
There was a great crowd, for the whole country
was in the courtroom. It was a notorious trial.
Elihu Marsh had been shot down in his house.
He had been found lying in a room, with a hole
through his body that one could put his thumb in.
He was an irascible old man, the last of his fam-
ily, and so, lived alone. He had rich lands, but
only a life estate in them, the remainder was to some
foreign heirs. A girl from a neighboring farm
came now and then to bake and put his house in or-
der, and he kept a farm hand about the premises.
Nothing had been disturbed in the house when the
neighbors found Marsh; no robbery had been at-
tempted, for the man's money, a considerable sum,
remained on him.
There was not much mystery about the thing, be-
cause the farm hand had disappeared. This man
was a stranger in the hills. He had come from over
the mountains some months before, and gone to work
for Marsh. He was a big blond man, young and
good looking; of better blood, one would say, than
the average laborer. He gave his name as Taylor,
but he was not communicative, and little else about
him was known.
The country was raised, and this man was over-
taken in the foothills of the mountains. He had his
clothes tied into a bundle, and a long-barreled fowl-
ing-piece on his shoulder. The story he told wal
that he and Marsh had settled that morning, and he
had left the house at noon, but that he had forgot-
ten his gun and had gone back for it; had reached
the house about four o'clock, gone into the kitchen,
got his gun down from the dogwood forks over the
chimney, and at once left the house. He had not
seen Marsh, and did not know where he was.
He admitted that this gun had been loaded with
a single huge lead bullet. He had so loaded it to
kill a dog that sometimes approached the house, but
not close enough to be reached with a load of shot.
He affected surprise when it was pointed out that
the gun had been discharged. He said that he had
not fired it, and had not, until then, noticed that it
was empty. When asked why he had so suddenly
determined to leave the country, lie was silent.
He was carried back and confined in the county
jail, and now, he was on trial at the September term
of the circuit court.
The court sat early. Although the judge, Simon
Kilrail, was a landowner and lived on his estate in
the country some half dozen miles away, he rode to
the courthouse in the morning, and home at night,
with his legal papers in his saddle-pockets. It was
only when the court sat that he was a lawyer. At
other times he harvested his hay and grazed his cat-
tle, and tried to add to his lands Eke any other man
in the hills, and he was as hard in a trade and as
hungry for an acre as any.
It was the sign and insignia of distinction in Vir-
ginia to own land. Mr. Jefferson had annuled the
titles that George the Third had granted, and the
land alone remained as a patent of nobility. The
Judge wished to be one of these landed gentry, and
he had gone a good way to accomplish it. But when
the court convened he became a lawyer and sat upon
the bench with no heart in him, and a cruel tongue
like the English judges.
I think everybody was at this trial. My Uncle
Abner and the strange old doctor, Storm, sat on a
bench near the center aisle of the court-room, and
I sat behind them, for I was a half-grown lad, and
permitted to witness the terrors and severities of
The prisoner was the center of interest. He sat
with a stolid countenance like a man careless of the
issues of life. But not everybody was concerned
with him, for my Uncle Abner and Storm watched
the girl who had been accustomed to bake for Marsh
and red up his house.
She was a beauty of her type; dark haired and
dark eyed like a gypsy* and with an April nature of
storm and sun. She sat among the witnesses with
a little handkerchief clutched in her hands. She was
nervous to the point of hysteria, and I thought
that was the reason the old doctor watched her.
She would be taken with a gust of tears, and then
throw up her head with a fine defiance; and she
kneaded and knotted and worked the handkerchief
in her fingers. It was a time of stress and many
witnesses were unnerved, and I think I should not
have noticed this girl but for the whispering of
Storm and my Uncle Abner.
The trial went forward, and it became certain
that the prisoner would hang. His stubborn re-
fusal to give any reason for his hurried departure
had but one meaning, and the circumstantial evidence
was conclusive. The motive, only, remained in
doubt, and the Judge had charged on this with so
many cases in point, and with so heavy a hand, that
any virtue in it was removed. The Judge was hard
against this man, and indeed there was little sym-
pathy anywhere, for it was a foul killing — the victim
an old man and no hot blood to excuse it.
In all trials of great public interest, where the evi-
dences of guilt overwhelmingly assemble against a
prisoner, there comes a moment when all the people
in the court-room, as one man, and without a sign
of the common purpose, agree upon a verdict; there
is no outward or visible evidence of this decision, but
one feels it, and it is a moment of the tensest stress.
The trial of Taylor had reached this point, and
there lay a moment of deep silence, when this girl
sitting among the witnesses suddenly burst into a
very hysteria of tears. She stood up shaking with
sobs, her voice choking in her throat, and the tears
gushing through her fingers.
What she said was not heard at the time by the
audience in the court-room, but it brought the Judge
to his feet and the jury crowding about her, and it
broke down the silence of the prisoner, and threw
him into a perfect fury of denials. We could hear
his voice rise above the confusion, and we could see
him struggling to get to the girl and stop her. But
what she said was presently known to everybody,
for it was taken down and signed ; and it put the case
against Taylor, to use a lawyer's term, out of court.
The girl had killed Marsh herself. And this was
the manner and the reason of it: She and Taylor
were sweethearts and were to be married. But they
had quarreled the night before Marsh's death and
the following morning Taylor had left the country.
The point of the quarrel was some remark that
Marsh had made to Taylor touching the girl's repu-
tation. She had come to the house in the afternoon;
and finding her lover gone, and maddened at the
sight of the one who had robbed her of him, had
taken the gun down from the chimney and killed
Marsh. She had then put the gun bade into its place
and left the house. This was about two o'clock m
the afternoon, and about an hour before Taylor re-
turned for his gun.
There was a grefct veer of public feeling with a
profound sense of having come at last upoa the
truth, for the story not only fitted to the circumstan-
tial evidence against Taylor, but it fitted also to his
story and it disclosed the motive for the killing. It
explained, too, why he had refused to give the rea-
son for his disappearance. That Taylor denied
what the girl said and tried to stop her in her dec-
laration, meant nothing except that the prisoner was
a man, and would not have the woman he loved make
such a sacrifice for him.
I cannot give all the forms of legal procedure with
which the closing hours of the court were taken up t
but nothing happened to shake the girl's confession.
Whatever the law required was speedily got ready*
and she was remanded to the care of the sheriff in
order that she might come before the court in the
Taylor was not released, but was also held in cus-
tody, although the case against him seemed utterly
broken down. The Judge refused to permit the
prisoner's counsel to take a verdict. He said that he
would withdraw a juror and continue the case. But
he seemed unwilling to release any clutch of the law
until some one was punished for this crime.
It was on our way, and we rode out with the
Judge that night. He talked with Abner and Storm
about the pastures and the price of cattle, but not
about the trial, as I hoped he would do, except once
only, and then it was to inquire why the prosecuting
attorney had not called either of them as witnesses,
since they were the first to find Marsh, and Storm
had been among the doctors who examined him.
And Storm had explained how he had mortally of-
fended the prosecutor in his canvass, by his remark
that only a gentleman should hold office. He did
but quote Mr. Hamilton, Storm said, but the man
had received it as a deadly insult, and thereby proved
the truth of Mr. Hamilton's expression, Storm
added. And Abner said that as no circumstance
about Marsh's death was questioned, and others ar-
riving about the same time had been called, the
prosecutor doubtless considered further testimony
The Judge nodded, and the conversation turned
to other questions. At the gate, after the common
formal courtesy of the country, the Judge asked us
to ride in, and, to my astonishment, Abner and
Storm accepted his invitation. I could see that the
man was surprised, and I thought annoyed, but he
took us into his library.
I could not understand why Abner and Storm had
stopped here, until I remembered how from the first
they had been considering the girl, and it occurred
to me that they thus sought the Judge in the hope of
getting some word to him in her favor. A great
sentiment had leaped up for this girl. She had made
a staggering sacrifice, and with a headlong courage,
and it was like these men to help her if they could.
And it was to speak of the woman that they came,
but not in her favor. And while Simon Kilrail lis*
tened, they told this extraordinary story: They had
been of the opinion that Taylor was not guilty when
the trial began, but they had suffered it to proceed
in order to see what might develop. The reason
was that there were certain circumstantial evidences,
overlooked by the prosecutor, indicating the guilt
of the woman and the innocence of Taylor. When
Storm examined the body of Marsh he discovered
that the man had been killed by poison, and was dead
when the bullet was fired into his body. This meant
that the shooting was a fabricated evidence to di-
rect suspicion against Taylor. The woman had
baked for Marsh on this morning, and the poison
was in the bread which he had eaten at noon.
Abner was going on to explain something further,
when a servant entered and asked the Judge what
time it was. The man had been greatly impressed,
and he now sat in a profound reflection. He took
his watch out of his pocket and held it in his hand,
then he seemed to realize the question and replied
that his watch had run down. Abner gave the hour,
and said that perhaps his key would wind the watch.
The Judge gave it to him, and he wound it and laid
it on the table. Storm observed my Uncle with,
what I thought, a curious interest, but the Judge
paid no attention. He was deep in his reflection and
oblivious to everything. Finally he roused himself
and made his comment
"This clears the matter up," he said. "The
woman killed Marsh from the motive which she
gave in her confession, and she created this false
evidence against Taylor because he had abandoned
her. She thereby avenged herself desperately in
two directions. ... It would be like a woman to do
this, and then regret it and confess."
He then asked my Uncle if he had anything fur-
ther to tell him, and although I was sure that Abner
was going on to say something further when the
servant entered, he replied now that he had not, and
asked for the horses. The Judge went out to have
the horses brought, and we remained in silence. My
Uncle was calm, as with some consuming idea, but
Storm was as nervous as a cat. He was out of his
chair when the door was closed, and hopping about
the room looking at the law books standing on the
shelves in their leather covers. Suddenly he stopped
and plucked out a little volume. He whipped
through it with his forefinger, smothered a great
oath, and shot it into his pocket, then he crooked his
finger to my Uncle, and they talked together in a
recess of the window until the Judge returned.
We rode away. I was sure that they intended
to say something to the Judge in the woman's fa*
vor, for, guilty or not, it was a fine thing she had
done to stand up and confess. But something in
the interview had changed their purpose. Perhaps
when they had heard the Judge's comment they saw
it would be of no use. They talked closely together
as they rode, but they kept before me and I could
not hear. It was of the woman they spoke, how-
ever, for I caught a fragment.
"But where is the motive? 9 ' said Storm.
Arid my Uncle answered, "In the twenty-first chap-
ter of the Book of Kings-"
We were early at the county seat, and it was a
good thing for us, because the court-room was
crowded to the doors. My Uncle had got a big rec-
ord book out of the county clerk's office as he came
in, and I was glad of it, for he gave it to me to sit
on, and it raised me up so I could see. Storm was
there, too, and, in fact, every man of any standing
in the county.
The sheriff opened the court, the prisoners were
brought in, and the Judge took his seat on the bench.
He looked haggard like a man who had not slept,
as, in fact, one could hardly have done who had so
cruel a duty before him. Here was every human
feeling pressing to save a woman, and the law to
hang her. But for all his hag-ridden face, when he
came to act, the man was adamant.
He ordered the confession read, and directed the
girl to stand up. Taylor tried again to protest, but
he was forced down into his chair. The girl stood
up bravely, but she was white as plaster, and her eyes
dilated. She was asked if she still adhered to the
confession and understood the consequences of it,
and, although she trembled from head to toe, she
spoke out distinctly. There was a moment of si-
lence and the Judge was about to speak, when an-
other voice filled the court-room. I turned about
on my book to find my head against my Uncle Ab-
"I challenge the confession !" he said.
The whole court-room moved. Every eye was
on the two tragic figures standing up : the slim, pale
girl and the big, somber figure of my Uncle. The
Judge was astounded.
**On what ground?" he said.
"On the ground," replied my Uncle, "that the
confession is a lie I"
One could have heard a pin fall anywhere in the
whole room. The girl caught her breath in a little
gasp, and the prisoner, Taylor, half rose and then
;sat down as though his knees were too weak to bear
him. The Judge's mouth opened, but for a moment
or two he did not speak, and I could understand his
amazement. Here was Abner assailing a confes-
sion which he himself had supported before the
Judge, and speaking for the innocence of a woman
whom he himself had shown to be guilty and taking
one position privately, and another publicly. What
did the man mean? And I was not surprised that
the Judge's voice was stern when he spoke.
"This is irregular/' he said. "It may be that this
woman killed Marsh, or it may be that Taylor killed
him, and there is some collusion between these per-
sons, as you appear to suggest And you may know
something to throw light on the matter, or you may
not. However that may be, this is not the time for
me to hear you. You will have ample opportunity
to speak when I come to try the case."
"But you will never try this case !" said Abner.
I cannot undertake to describe the desperate in-
terest that lay on the people in the courtroom.
They were breathlessly silent; one could hear the
voices from the village outside, and the sounds of
men and horses that came up through the open win-
dows. No one knew what hidden thing Abner
drove at. But he was a man who meant what he
said, and the people knew it.
The Judge turned on him with a terrible face.
"What do you mean?" he said.
"I mean," replied Abner, and it was in his deep,
hard voice, "that you must come down from the
The Judge was in a heat of fury.
"You are in contempt," he roared. "I order
your arrest. Sheriff 1" he called.
But Abner did not move. He looked the man
calmly in the face.
"You threaten me," he said, "but God Almighty
threatens you." And he turned about to the audi-
ence. "The authority of the law," he said, "is in
the hands of the electors of this county. Will they
I shall never forget what happened then, for I
have never in my life seen anything so deliberate
and impressive. Slowly, in silence, and without pas-
sion, as though they were in a church of God, men
began to get up in the courtroom.
Randolph was the first. He was a justice of the
peace, vain and pompous, proud of the abilities of
an ancestry that he did not inherit. And his super-
ficialities were the annoyance of my Uncle Abner's
life. But whatever I may have to say of him here-
after I want to say this thing of him here, that his
bigotry and his vanities were builded on the founda-
tions of a man. He stood up as though he stood
alone, with no glance about him to see what other,
men would do, and he faced the Judge calmly above
his great black stock. And I learned then that a
man may be a blusterer and a lion.
Hiram Arnold got up, and Rockford, and Arm-
strong, and Alkire, and Coopman, and Monroe, and
Elnathan Stone, and my father, Lewis, and Dayton
and Ward, and Madison from beyond the moun-
tains. And it seemed to me that the very hills and
valleys were standing up.
It was a strange and instructive thing to see. The
loud-mouthed and the reckless were in that court-
room, men who would have shouted in a political
convention, or run howling with a mob, but they
were not the persons who stood up when Abner
called upon the authority of the people to appear.
Men rose whom one would not have looked to see
i — the blacksmith, the saddler, and old Asa Divers.
And I saw that law and order and all the structure
that civilization had builded up, rested on the sense
of justice that certain men carried in their breasts,
and that those who possessed it not, in the crisis of
necessity, did not count.
Father Donovan stood up; he had a little flock
beyond the valley river, and he was as poor, and
almost as humble as his Master, but he was not
afraid; and Bronson, who preached Calvin, and
Adam Rider, who traveled a Methodist circuit. No
one of them believed in what the other taught; but
they all believed in justice, and when the line was
drawn, there was but one side for them alL
The last man up was Nathaniel Davisson, but the
reason was that he was very old, and he had to wait
for his sons to help him. He had been time and
again in the Assembly of Virginia, at a time when
only a gentleman and landowner could sit there. He
was a just man, and honorable and unafraid.
The Judge, his face purple, made a desperate ef-
fort to enforce his authority. He pounded on his
desk and ordered the sheriff to clear the courtroom.
But the sheriff remained standing apart. He did
pot lack for courage, and I think he would have
faced the people if his duty had been that way. His
attitude was firm, and one could mark no uncer-
tainty upon him, but he took no step to obey what
the Judge commanded
The Judge cried out at him in a terrible voice.
"I am the representative of the law here. Go
The sheriff was a plain man, and unacquainted
with the nice expressions of Mr. Jefferson, but his
answer could not have been better if that gentleman
had written it out for him.
"I would obey the representative of the law," he
said, "if I were not in the presence of the law it-
The Judge rose. "This is revolution," he said;
"I will send to the Governor for the militia."
It was Nathaniel Davisson who spoke then. He
was very old and the tremors of dissolution were on
him, but his voice was steady.
"Sit down, your Honor," he said, "there is no
revolution here, and you do not require troops to
support your authority. We are here to support it
if it ought to be lawfully enforced. But the people
have elevated you to the Bench because they believed
in your integrity, and if they have been mistaken they
would know it." He paused, as though to collect
his strength, and then went on. "The presumptions
of right are all with your Honor. You administer
the law upon our authority and we stand behind you.
Be assured that we will not suffer our authority to
be insulted in your person." His voice grew deep
and resolute. "It is a grave thing to call us up
against you, and not lightly, nor for a trivial reason
shall any man dare to do it." Then he turned about.
"Now, Abner/' he said, "what is this thing?"
Young as I was, I felt that the old man spoke for
the people standing in the courtroom, with their
voice and their authority, and I began to fear that
the measure which my Uncle had taken was high
handed. But he stood there like the shadow of a
"I charge him," he said, "with the murder of
Elihu Marsh 1 And I call upon him to vacate die
When I think about this extraordinary event now,
I wonder at the calmness with which Simon Kilrail
met this blow, until I reflect that he had seen it on
its way, and had got ready to meet it. But even
with that preparation, it took a man of iron nerve
to face an assault like that and keep every muscle
in its place. He had tried violence and had failed
with it, and he had recourse now to the attitudes
and mannerisms of a judicial dignity. He sat with
his elbows on the table, and his clenched fingers
propping up his jaw. He looked coldly at Abner,
but he did not speak, and there was silence until
Nathaniel Davisson spoke for him. His face and
his voice were like iron.
"No, Abner," he said, "he shall not vacate the
Bench for that, nor upon the accusation of any man.
We will have your proofs, if you please."
The Judge turned his cold face from Abner to
Nathaniel Davisson, and then he looked over the
men standing in the courtroom.
"I am not going to remain here," he said, "to be
tried by a mob, upon the viva voce indictment of a
bystander. You may nullify your court, if you like,
and suspend the forms of law for yourselves, but
you cannot nullify the constitution of Virginia, nor
suspend my right as a citizen of that common-
"And now," he said, rising, "if you will kindly
make way, I will vacate this courtroom, which your
violence has converted into a chamber of sedition."
The man spoke in a cold, even voice, and I
thought he had presented a difficulty that could not
be met. How could these men before him under-
take to keep the peace of this frontier, and force
its lawless elements to submit to the forms of law
for trial, and deny any letter of those formalities
to this man? Was the grand jury, and the formal
indictment, and all the right and privilege of an
orderly procedure for one, and not for another?
It was Nathaniel Davisson who met this danger-
"We are not concerned," he said, "at this mo-
ment with your rights as a citizen; the rights of
private citizenship are inviolate, and they remain
to you, when you return to it. But you are not
a private citizen. You are our agent. We have
selected you to administer the law for us, and your
right to act has been challenged Well, as the au-
thority behind you, we appear and would know the
The Judge retained his imperturbable calm.
"Do you hold me a prisoner here?" he said.
"We hold you an official in your office," replied
Davisson, "not only do we refuse to permit you
to leave the courtroom, but we refuse to permit
you to leave the Bench. This court shall remain
as we have set it up until it is our will to read-
just it. And it shall not be changed at the pleasure
or demand of any man but by us only, and for a
sufficient cause shown to us."
And again I was anxious for my Uncle, for I saw
how grave a thing it was to interfere with the author-
ity of the people as manifested in the forms and
agencies of the law. Abner must be very sure of
the ground under him.
And he was sure. He spoke now, with no intro-
ductory expressions, but directly and in the simplest
"These two persons," he said, indicating Taylor
and the girl, "have each been willing to die in or-
der to save the other. Neither is guilty of this
crime. Taylor has kept silent, and the girl has
lied, to the same end. This is the truth : There was
a lovers' quarrel, and Taylor left the country pre-
cisely as he told us, except the motive, which he
would not tell lest the girl be involved. And the
woman, to save him, confesses to a crime that she
did not commit.
"Who did commit it?" He paused and included
Storm with a gesture. "We suspected this woman
because Marsh had been killed by poison in his
bread, and afterwards mutilated with a shot. Yes-
terday rte rode out with the Judge to put those
facts before him." Again he paused. "An incident
occurring in that interview indicated that we were
wrong; a second incident assured us, and still later,
a third convinced us. These incidents were, first,
that the Judge's watch had rat down; second, that
we found in his library a book with all the leaves
in k uncut, except at one certain page; and, third,
that we found in the county cleric's office an uriirf-
dexed record in an old deed book." There was deep
quiet and he went on:
"In addition to the theory of Taylor's guilt or
this woman's, there was still a third; but it had
only a single incident to support it, and we feared
to suggest it until the others had been explained.
This theory was that some one, to benefit by Marsh's
death, had planned to kill him in such a manner as
to throw suspicion on this woman who baked his
bread, arid finding Taylor gone, and the gun above
the mantel, yielded to an afterthought to create a
further false evidence. It was overdone 1
"The trigger guard of the gun in the recoil caught
in the chain of the assassin's watch and jerked it out
of his pocket; he replaced the watch, but not the
key which fell to the floor, and which I picked up
beside the body of the dead man."
Abner turned toward the judge.
"And so," he said, "I charge Simon Kilrail with
this murder; because the key winds his watch; be-
cause the record in the old deed book is a convey-
ance by the heirs of Marsh's lands to him at the
life tenant's death; and because the book we found
in his library is a book on poisons with the leaves
uncut, except at the very page describing that iden-
tical poison with which Elihu Marsh was mur-
The strained silence that followed Abner's words
was broken by a voice that thundered in the court-
room. It was Randolph's.
"Come down I" he said.
And this time Nathaniel Davisson was silent.
The Judge got slowly on his feet, a resolution was
forming in his face, and it advanced swiftly.
"I will give you my answer in a moment," he
Then he turned about and went into his room
behind the Bench. There was but one door,
and that opening into the court, and the people
The windows were open and we could see the
green fields, and the sun, and the far-off mountains,
and the peace and quiet and serenity of autumn
entered. The Judge did not appear. Presently
there was the sound of a shot from behind the closed
door. The sheriff threw it open, and upon the floor,
sprawling in a smear of blood, lay Simon Kilrail,
with a dueling pistol in his hand.